How Can Academic Leaders Promote Literacy in Their Communities?

How Can Academic Leaders Promote Literacy in Their Communities?
Faltering adult literacy is a growing problem in the United States. Going by literacy rates posted on World Atlas just a few years ago, only 65-86% of total U.S. residents are literate, with only 15% able to read at a university level. The majority, according to the same numbers, can only read at 7th- or 8th-grade school level. Learn how academic leaders can promote literacy in their communities.

Low literacy among adults has been linked to a massive range of societal issues and thus requires addressing in as efficient and comprehensive a way as can be managed. Beyond educating low-literacy adults, however, this process crucially needs to include a focus on improving literacy among children, too. We know that it is difficult for kids who get off to a poor start in their reading and writing education to make up ground, which indicates that the best long-term approach to our literacy problem is improving how we teach our kids.

The question that follows is what role academic leaders can play in better promoting literacy in their communities. And there are some crucial steps that come to mind.

Expand Their Own Leadership Credentials

One interesting issue in educational systems in the past that is seldom discussed is a lack of opportunity for advancement past a certain point. Leaders of schools and school systems often attain their positions via experience and promotion but have little chance to actually undergo further training or certification for leadership positions. This remains a challenge for those who are interested, but the amplification of online degree programs relating to higher education has at least provided more options.

Now, it is possible for academic leaders to pursue additional credentials while on the job, or over the summer months. Maryville University’s overview for online doctorates in education leadership states that a degree of this nature can be earned in 1-3 years entirely online, providing interesting options for those pursuing more influence in education. As to how this factors into addressing the literacy problem, we’ll simply note that greater qualification empowers a leader. Someone in a position to run a school or school system will have a louder voice, greater connections, and often greater perspective on how to bring about meaningful change.

Set Up Plans Across Subjects

Regarding actual education plans, one common mistake in our approach to teaching reading and writing is the assumption that only activity in reading and writing classes matters. In other words, we should not think only of one or two periods in a day as the time in which children learn to read and write. Instead, educators and academic leaders need to remain mindful that kids also learn to engage with words through other subjects. A science workbook might ask for short written responses rather than multiple choice answers; math challenges can come in the form of word problems; even foreign language lessons can educate about grammar and sentence structure in English.

In addition to all subjects mattering, today’s academic leaders should also consider that different media matter. According to research analyzed by educators from the Universities of Queensland and South Australia, “engagement in literacy across many different media supported good literacy outcomes.” In other words, kids should engage with words through different subjects and different means, including print, writing, arts and crafts, screens, and more.

Implement Plans For Struggling Students

Another mistake that occurs in literacy education is failing to implement plans for students who struggle. Designing a comprehensive plan across subjects and media for effective education is a wonderful start. But it cannot be the whole effort. There will always be students who struggle even within a well-designed approach, and there also has to be a plan to help these students along. What that plan looks like will depend on the school system, the resources on hand, the nature of the child’s difficulty, and so on. But in the promotion of greater literacy, it cannot be assumed that a comprehensive approach will reach all students at the same rate.

Involve Families

It is also incredibly important for school systems to devise ways of involving parents in the process. As is noted in a piece on family involvement in literacy education posted on Medium, “families are students’ first teachers,” and remain central to education even once kids are in school. Now, this doesn’t mean that there will always be seamless cooperation between parents and educators; in some situations, it will be difficult if not impossible to involve families to a satisfactory extent. However, the same piece just mentioned that academic leaders start by opening lines of communication, holding regular parent-teacher conferences, hosting literacy events, and even providing parents with resources. Altogether this kind of effort will increase the odds of families taking active and productive roles in bolstering the promotion of literacy.

Set Up Opportunities Beyond the Classroom

Lastly, academic leaders would also do well to set up events outside of the classroom to further promote literacy. This can mean any number of things, but we’ll refer to the youth literacy program through Youth Transformed For Life that we’ve highlighted here before as an example. This program promotes both summer reading and greater equity in literacy education by reaching summer campers and primarily grade school students of color. It is again just one example, but it serves as a simple demonstration of how a single, well-run initiative can fill a meaningful gap in education, and help countless students along a better path toward full literacy in the process.

Through all of these measures, leaders in education have the opportunity to promote greater literacy education. Doing so will improve children’s abilities to read and write at desired levels, and ultimately result in greater literacy for entire communities.


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By Alicia Wilson

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Remote ESOL tutoring at its best

Remote ESOL tutoring

Please read the remote ESOL tutoring success story of Barbara and Maryna! One advantage of our tutors and students having had to learn how to meet remotely is that they’re often more creative about keeping the learning going when travel plans interrupt their regular classes. Take Barbara and Maryna, for example: they’ve been meeting on Zoom since November 2020. Barbara lives in Florida for part of the year and Asheville for the other, but that hasn’t affected their lessons at all. And when Maryna went to Ukraine for an extended visit this summer, she kept in touch with Barbara and practiced her English by taking videos of what she was doing, narrating them in English, and emailing them to Barbara. 

“I am very happy to have such a wonderful teacher in my life! I thank Barbara for our informative and fun lessons.” ~ Maryna

Watch the video to learn more about Barbara’s experience tutoring Maryna, and read more success stories here!

The English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program teaches oral English, reading, and writing to adults who have immigrated to the U.S. from around the world. ESOL is the largest program at Literacy Together, serving approximately 250 students annually. Our students’ most common goals in learning English are to improve their employment prospects, help their children in school, and pass the U.S. Naturalization exam.

Each student works with a trained volunteer tutor, either individually or in a small group of up to ten people. Tutoring takes place for two hours each week at times and locations that are mutually convenient for students and tutors. Tutors may choose to teach one (1) two-hour session or two (2) one-hour sessions each week and may do so online or in person.

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Adult Education and Family Literacy Week 2021

Adult education and family literacy week 2021
September 19-25, 2021 marks the annual Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, hosted by the National Coalition for Literacy.
This week exists to remind us all that reading, writing, and basic math remain an elusive target for 43 million adults nationwide, including 1 in 10 adults in Buncombe County (this is enough people to fill the Harrahs’ Cherokee Center three times). These neighbors lack the literacy skills they need to get better jobs, help their children with homework, or participate fully in our community. They struggle with simple tasks like completing a form at the doctor’s office or reading the label on a prescription medicine bottle. 

43 percent of adults who have low literacy skills live in poverty, and 72 percent of children of low-literate adults read below grade level. What does this say about the cycle of poverty?  The mission of Literacy Together is to break that cycle of generational poverty

In recognition of Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, Literacy Together would like to ask you to join forces with us to accomplish our mission to transform lives and communities through literacy. I invite you to learn more about how you can help with the literacy crisis by checking the Literacy Together website or calling our office at 828-254-3442. Even if you have visited our website before, I encourage you to check the website again to see the life-changing programs that Literacy Together has been providing during the pandemic. You can also learn more about our recent summer camp and the other ways we are tackling this literacy crisis head-on. I truly believe that we can make a difference in our community and change lives together through the power of literacy

Marilyn Lindsley Cortes,
Board Chair of Literacy Together

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Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is now shipping books to over 4,400 children!

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Buncombe County mails a new, free, age-appropriate book to registered children each month until they turn five years old. DPIL creates a home library of up to 60 books and instills a love of books and reading from an early age. Here is what our families have to say! 

“Edie loves to read her books!  Getting a new book for her nursery library from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library every month is as big a thrill for her as it is for me.  She has books in her car-box and she is enjoying Little Miss Spider on this trip!”  ~ Betty (DPIL parent)


Dolly Parton's Imagination Library-Buncombe County


“Thank you for bringing Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to Buncombe county! James enjoyed all the books, now he is ready for kindergarten.” ~ Greg B.

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library-Buncombe County

“The Imagination Library was designed to help children dream more, learn more, care more, and be more, and by golly, it’s really working,” said Dolly Parton. Parton started the program 20 years ago in her hometown of Sevierville, TN.

“Back in the hills of Tennessee, illiteracy was a real problem,” she said. “I saw firsthand the lifelong struggles that resulted for many of my friends and neighbors.”

“It really affected me, and ever since that time it’s been my dream for every child to have a library of books that their parents can read to them from, from the time they’re born until they start school.”

“That dream has become a global reality. Today, the Imagination Library has replications in 1,600 communities in 4 countries. The program now mails over 1.1 million books each month to children in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.”

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Youth Literacy: The summer camp was a big success!

Fourteen tutors ages 16-20 worked with fifty students for eight weeks, and the experience was a big success!

The students received pre-and post-tests to measure progress. Title I Reading Specialists from Asheville City Schools administered the tests incorporating the same series of tools they use to measure progress during the school year.  Students were given between 2 to 6 tests each, depending on their grade.   Of the students who completed both the pre-and post-tests, 41 out of 44 (93%) improved their test scores in at least one test.

The collaboration between YTL (Youth Transformed for Life) and our Youth Literacy Program was initiated through conversations over the past months about how to reach more grade school students of color.

Knowing that the impact of COVID left students with even larger gaps in reading levels, the Literacy Together team decided to find a way to step up (read more about this process here).

The campers were primarily youth of color, and our paid internship offer prioritized young adults of color to serve as tutors and mentors. Here are some of their testimonials and photos. Enjoy!

I understand more about how to empathsize with those who view reading as a challenge. Reading has always been a fun activity for me, but this summer I was shown that this is not the case for everyone and I need to be sensitive to that.” 

One of my students went from not being able to recognize the sounds of “u” and “a” and “i” in certain words to reading paragraphs fluently by the end. One student had trouble with the auditory deletion exercises but by the end, they got a 100 percent on the assessment. Another student had trouble writing and reading over four-letter words but could read them and figure them out by the end.”

The internship allowed me to improve my communication skills with other adults and kids. If I ever decide I want to teach on an elementary level or on any level, I would have the knowledge or the feel for how or what to do when working with other students. The experience will also tell my future employers that I’ve had experience or interest in teaching from a young age and that I’ll be a good candidate.”

I feel like I have definitely gained a love for learning and working with kids. I really liked being able to help kids who have some of the struggles I experienced when I was their age. It was so rewarding and I value those relationships so so much. I know Tonya said this but I’m not going to forget these people or my kids for the rest of my life.”

“I gained patience from dealing with kids as well as many other skills because it is not like anything I have done before. I think it gave us a very good sense of leadership and empowerment because however much effort we put in was how much we got out. I learned that simple things can mean so much to people and have a great impact on them. Overall a great experience that I think a lot of people will benefit from.”

Thanks to all the interns, we appreciate you!


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