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Descubre with Montse: Bridging Literacy gaps for immigrant children

From TV6 News, it’s Descubre with Montse, I’m Montse Ricossa. Descubre means “to discover” and...
From TV6 News, it’s Descubre with Montse, I’m Montse Ricossa. Descubre means “to discover” and I’m here to help you discover more about different and diverse topics in the United States.(KWQC)
Published: Jun. 6, 2021 at 5:11 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 6, 2021 at 5:16 PM CDT
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) -

Montse Ricossa: From TV6 News, it’s Descubre with Montse, I’m Montse Ricossa. Descubre means “to discover” and I’m here to help you discover more about different and diverse topics in the United States. Welcome to Descubre with Montse’s 15th episode: Bridging Literacy.

Joining teams, the Moline Public Library and Project Now: Headstart will now be able to help immigrant and non-English speaking families get the same access to books and education as other families in their community. After receiving a $40,000 grant, the organizations are hoping to help through Bridging Literacy in the Quad Cities area. The idea is ready to launch in just a few days.

Tonight we’ll hear from Christina Conklin, the Children’s Services coordinator at Moline Library, and Misi Birdsall, the director of Head Start Project Now, which promotes the school readiness of preschool-aged children from low-income families.

Christina Conklin: It actually all got started for the moline public library with another project, we were given a generous donation to improve our foreign language collection. Spanish, French, we have about 20 languages in our children’s collection. We were very excited, we need to update it, and want to improve it. We got to thinking ‘if we need to bring people in, what are the barriers to that?’  We wanted to speak with the community about what they wanted, and programming, and all of this. I heard about this initiative and I thought, this is perfect! We want to reach out for early literacy and let people know reading is fun and exciting so we thought the two things went really well together!

Misi Birdsall: I love our project! I know you do too. What we’re going to do is bring a literacy experience to neighborhoods that need it the most. We’ll set up tables and materials, literacy-based materials. We’re going to have storytimes, we’re going to have free books to give away, free kits to give away, and we’ll bring an outreach services team and work with the families. We’ll support them in any way that we need, so we’ll make sure that Project Now team is with them.

Christina Conklin: We’re approaching literacy from many different angles. We want to eliminate barriers in as many ways as possible and we want to make sure people know literacy has many different looks - it’s reading books to your child, but it’s also singing, reading, active, and passive. There are many different components coming together. All of them are very important. We want parents to understand they are the first teachers! I think a lot of times people think they are not qualified, that’s what teachers do. But in the first five years of the child’s life, we know those are the most important years. So we really want to get that word out.

Misi Birdsall: And I think those barriers also are not just transportation and getting to the library or a Head Start class, but it’s the barriers of a stable home. A roof over their head, food in their tummies because if you don’t have a strong family or foundation, it’s tough to learn when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. We want to make sure the family has everything you need when it comes to meals and storytimes.

Christina Conklin: That’s right, you want to eliminate those stressors so they can have fun with their child doing these things that will help them.

Misi Birdsall: In our Headstart program, many of our families come from refugee and immigrant families and their primary language is not English. When I talk to them about how they don’t have literacy books or materials in their homes, I needed to be a part of this to strengthen that ecosystem and bring those to our families. On average they have 10 or less books in their home from surveys I’ve done, where English families have over 50 books in their home. I knew it’s important we find a way to get to these communities to make sure that they get these books, materials, and activities they have to build their literacy skills

Montse Ricossa: Seeing the disparities between white families and families of color, how drastic is the difference and what impact does that make? Because you may just think ‘okay they just don’t have as many books’ but what is the long-term impact of that disparity?

Christina Conklin: It increases over time. If they don’t have those early literacy skills they’re not ready for kindergarten, then not ready for third grade and that impacts later on for graduation rates as well. To get that degree for their job, that impacts their future. There’s a big impact there.

Misi Birdsall: I absolutely agree with Christina, if we don’t prepare them for kindergarten and they don’t come with social-emotional literacy skills and math skills, then it’s going to continue to snowball throughout the school. They’re also not seeing books that have Black and Brown characters in them. They’re not seeing their cultures or traditions and they’re not seeing children like them. So then the love of reading maybe isn’t there. With the help of the library, we’re able to bring these books to the children so they can sit down, cuddle up in the evening, and read a story.

Montse Ricossa: Talking about the solution now, how do you look at solving the issue?

Christina Conklin: Fortunately, our programs go very well together. We want to reach out to the community and promote these early literacy skills and give resources to the families to help them continue on their own. We thought we would do this joint pop-up early childhood event in Moline. We do want to branch out on our own a well, but together we can be a stronger force, be able to share our resources, and be able to offer more to our community. We’re very excited to be able to do that.

Misi Birdsall: We’ll be able to bring mobile literacy experience to the neighborhoods. So we’re going to go to these underserved communities and bring these books to them. To do this we’re going to bring literacy activities, pop up a table and do an activity with the children. It can be math, science, art, numbers, it can be letters, colors, shapes. But it all contains literacy skills. We’re talking, talking, community, exploring, questioning. And just making friendships while we’re there.

And Christina will bring out books and help them get library cards. And talk about the library so they can come here and explore all of the great opportunities. And I also want to give books away, I want to be able to give a book in their primary language. A lot of books are written in English and their primary language so they can take these books home so parents can take them home and read with them and they’re still learning their English at the same time. The last piece is to bring our community outreach workers with us. Those workers will sit with parents and work on housing, with food, heating, and cooling assistance. So while kids are having fun, parents will have the resources they need to make sure their home is happy, healthy, and safe.

Christina Conklin: In addition, we want to make sure books we can check out. We have a variety of kits and early learning activities we want people to know they can check out museum passes, just a whole bunch of things. A lot of people, whether immigrants or they’ve been in Moline for a long time, don’t know what the library has to offer. And it’s like a store, if you don’t know what it has, you’re not likely to make that effort to find out what’s there. Especially if transportation is difficult. So we thought going out of the community would really help this. We want to hand out early literacy kids that have all these supplies together so that we can do fun things that are going to be educational as well. So in this particular one we’ve got bubbles, a paint thing, bubble wrap, dry erase marker, games, all sorts of fun things, a science thing on whether it will sink or float. We wanted to do these types of kits that relate to culture and be in different languages so they’d be more accessible. Thinking about very busy parents trying to gather all this stuff or if money is an issue, this way they don’t have to think “I don’t want to buy a glue stick, scissors, it would all be right there for them” it’s another way to reach out and help them with early literacy.

Montse Ricossa: If parents have financial constraints and they have to decide whether to buy a glue stick or buy a meal, how does that play into it and be a factor in a lot of families you’ve worked with?

Christina Conklin: It’s very stressful. You don’t have time to think about, ‘oh what am I going to teach my child today?’ Fortunately, there are a lot of things a parent can do that don’t cost money but you just need to concentrate on simply speaking, talking to your child. It’s easy to say ‘get the ball but instead, you say ‘get that blue ball in the corner, the smaller one. That’s in the corner, bring it back and we’ll play.’ If you use more words, it will help get your child ready for kindergarten. We go with the ‘every child ready to read’ with American Library Association like talk, sing, play with your child. Read of course with your child. All of these things will help in addition. With Head Start, they go much deeper into all of that

Misi Birdsall: I think part of the journey will be to educate the parents on educating the families because our environments are rich in print. Talking about the McDonalds sign, road signs, in the library what’s on the walls, what’s in the home? Talking about the print around them, communicating with their child. Having conversations. Talking to them while they’re taking a bath and using that language so they can continue to learn. Part of our program will bring outreach workers to help with food insecurity, lessen the stress. To help put food on the table. The child that’s hungry or doesn’t know when the next meal will come won’t be able to learn as well, we want to make sure they are healthy so we can teach them and help them to learn and grow.

Montse Ricossa: How is this an issue for kids of color compared to white kids? I grew up reading a lot of books with white characters and they were all predominantly in English. As a kid seeing that, how does that impact their childhood going into adulthood?

Christina Conklin: You need to be able to identify with the books and characters. if you can’t, reading isn’t going to be as much fun. To get kids to read, you need to make them fun and the thing is, books are fun! You can travel wherever. What if Harold and the purple crayon, what if I had a purple crayon? What could I create? Books are really great right now, they are becoming so much more diverse. In fact, I have some right here with sound recordings which are awesome. We hope to have some soon in Spanish as well.  On our new bookshelves you’ll see tons of books with Latinx, Black, Asian characters, there’s quite a mix. You can see a lot of fun animals like that too. There’s just a wide variety, in this initiative I realized our public doesn’t know that! And our organizations don’t know that. We need people to know that the kits we’ve done in the past, we haven’t incorporated the cultural, very rich cultural activities that we could. We want to be changing that as well. We want to be engaging with families so they don’t feel separated from that

Misi Birdsall: I agree, it’s identifying with the book, with the characters, with the stories. To identify what’s happening in the book. They’re more diverse but it’s even more important that those families are involved. We’re talking young children, you’re looking from birth to third grade, we need the families to get involved and let the child read to them. We need to make this a family event and not necessarily just the children come running to us, but the family running to us also.

Christina Conklin: We want to make it fun, it needs to be fun. For the parents as well as the children, it needs to be a family event. One of the things I’ve discovered is that families from other countries, other cultural backgrounds do not have the library experience perhaps in their country. One family told me from their country libraries are more for universities, it wasn’t meant for a family. I spoke with someone recently who said they thought based on their background, they could look at something but they couldn’t check it out. They could sign but read it right here, they didn’t know they could check something out if they got a card. We want to reach out and say ‘not only do we have this available but you can check it out, it’s free.’ We want to hear from them too as to what they want to see in their library because it’s a community library. It’s for everyone.

Misi Birdsall: It’s from my understanding that not all cultures believe in sitting down and reading a book with their child. The child goes to school to read, that’s where they get their education and come home to do other things at home. Educating parents on the importance of that time together, that bonding time to sit in the chair and have a child sit with them to sit in a book. It’s important to have that time to bond whether they’re reading in English or their primary language, as long as you’re getting their time together, that’s important. This has been a long process, this has been an exciting process. We’re ready to get into these communities. We’ll be where we should be, we’ll be in the middle of the neighborhood with the family.

Christina Conklin: I’m excited to go to the communities, build these relationships, get to know people, and getting them excited about reading and sharing books with each other!

Montse Ricossa: Around how many children and families will you be able to impact with this program?

Misi Birdsall: I would say hundreds of families we can impact. If you go into these neighborhoods - there’s one near our program that has 160 units but 800 people in the whole neighborhood. If we can bring this smack into the middle of the neighborhood, we can get the kiddos running in from each side, we can impact hundreds of children in the area.

Montse Ricossa: How soon can we see the impact of it? Obviously, a lot of it is long-term, seeing them get into college and everything. How soon can people say ‘yes because of the program we’re seeing this change’?

Christina Conklin: I think the library, we can start seeing things right away. How is our collection - how many people have we signed up for library cards, how often are they checking out books?’ Statistics-wise we can see that right away.  I would think once kids are going to preschool, when kids are going to kindergarten, we should start seeing a change in that. But that is going to be a little longer down the road.

Misi Birdsall: My goal is to bring this program in the summer when the learning loss happens. We’re in the neighborhoods in the summer when children aren’t in school, not in pre-k, not in kindergarten. We want to make sure they continue to learn in the summer and a big benefit in their next school year. If we do this summer after summer, you’ll start to see the literacy skills will increase and strengthen. We’ll kick-off events in Moline together and as we grow we’ll expand into other parts of the Quad Cities. I’ve already begun working with housing, authorities, transportation, city governments, and other early childhood educators to partner in this. We all have a stake in the lives of our children. It takes a community to take care of our children. I’m looking forward to building these partnerships to work with our library and have a greater impact on our quad cities area. It’s exciting. It’s going to be a great thing.

Christina Conklin: Together we’re stronger.

Montse Ricossa: The group says they plan to have at least one event every month and hope to help over 100 families each time.

This podcast was produced and edited by Montse Ricossa, the theme music composed by Gabriel Candiani and Eduardo Moretti Valenzuela.

I’m your host, Montse Ricossa.

Copyright 2021 KWQC. All rights reserved.