Communities asked to create local literacy plans

Linda St. Andre, principal of Governor James B. Longley Elementary School,  and her sixth grade student, Yousif Ahmed, spoke about his path to English literacy after moving to Maine from Yemen.
Linda St. Andre, principal of Governor James B. Longley Elementary School, and sixth grade student, Yousif Ahmed, spoke about his path to English literacy, which includes tutoring other kids, after moving to Maine from Yemen.
Click here to view more photos from this event.

LEWISTON – Literacy is not just reading and it’s not just the responsibility of schools. Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, educators, business people and others joined together Tuesday at the Lewiston Public Library to launch a statewide effort aimed at assisting communities to build local plans for helping their kids, adults, immigrants and others achieve higher levels of literacy and be prepared for success as adults.

“All around us here in Lewiston are the sites of old textile mills where kids fresh out of high school – maybe not even with a diploma – would go to work and earn a decent living for the rest of their lives,” Bowen said. “Those jobs are gone, and they are not coming back. Many of the jobs of today and most of the jobs of tomorrow demand new kinds of skills and knowledge. Workers must be able to analyze, interpret, problem solve, collaborate with others, understand and work with technology in new ways, take information – floods of information coming at us all the time, 24/7 – and make it into knowledge. In a world where 300 billion emails are sent every day, our students need, more than anything, to be literate.”

The launch of the birth-to-adult literacy initiative, Literacy for ME, is the culmination of two years of work by dozens of people focused on literacy, including teachers, school administrators, librarians, business people and others.

While the launch was intended to raise awareness, it also has a specific goal: to help communities begin the planning process, by getting local teams of people to one of six regional meetings currently scheduled. These meetings, being held between Sept. 19 and 28, will provide local community teams with an understanding of how to embark on the process of comprehensive literacy planning and introduce them to tools and resources that can support their work. Details about the meetings can be found at: http://www.maine.gov/doe/literacy-for-me/kickoff.html.

“Literacy is the complete package of life skills,” said Peter Geiger, vice president of Geiger Brothers, the publisher of Farmers’ Almanac. “Geiger employs over 400 associates in both an office and manufacturing. Without literate people, we could not be competitive in today’s economy nor could we continue to grow beyond our 135 years.”

“The purpose of Literacy for ME is to increase coordination of Maine’s literacy resources, build on existing strengths and address current gaps,”  said Sue Reed, who has served on the State Literacy Team for the past two years. “What makes Literacy for ME different from previous state-level initaitives is its emphasis on supporting local communities to engage in their own comprehensive literacy planning.  Literacy is a cultural imperative, not just a cultural elective.” Reed is also a faculty member at the University of Southern Maine, Lewiston-Auburn Campus and the pre-K consultant for Portland Public Schools.

In addition to hosting the regional meetings, the Maine Department of Education will support community efforts with technical assistance and has developed an online toolkit of resources, scheduled to go live on September 19, to help members of Maine communities work together to improve literacy skills for learners of every age.

Yousif Ahmed, a sixth grader and tutor for the Learning Together Tutoring Program at Governor James B. Longley Elementary School, spoke at the Literacy launch of his experience learning English. As a tutor, Ahmed became “a good teacher and a better reader,” he said. “It used to be hard for me to read little books. Now my teacher tells me to read big books….And I became a better writer. Tutoring is all about teaching to little kids….You’re teaching him, and he’s teaching you.” A Yemen native fluent in Somali and Arabic, Ahmed has been learning English since he moved to the United States when he was 10 years old.

A key premise of Literacy for ME is that literacy learning begins at birth and continues through adulthood. Although Maine has made significant strides in literacy over the past several years, many still view literacy as solely the responsibility of schools. Literacy for ME seeks to make the case that everyone has a stake in ensuring all Maine citizens are able to read, write and think critically. These skills are vital to the individual success of Maine students and families, and to the business and economic needs of the state, where many quality job openings remain unfilled due to lack of skilled workers. Deficiency of literacy skills is one of the factors.

Sharing these and other best practices is one of the key elements of Bowen’s and Gov. Paul LePage’s ABC plan to improve achievement growth in Maine by prioritizing three core areas: accountability, best practices and choice. The plan is based on the more detailed Maine DOE strategic plan.

Learn more about Literacy for ME, view the resources, and register a team to participate in the regional meetings at: http://www.maine.gov/doe/literacy-for-me/index.html.

For more photos from the event, please visit the Department’s Flickr page.

Resources and more information