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Linda Mah
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Literacy Program Helps Parents and Kids

It’s a Wednesday night at Skyridge Church on Kalamazoo’s west side.

In the Family Literacy room, a group leader is reading sentences to parents and children, asking, “Does this sentence persuade, inform or entertain?” In another room, parents with younger children are talking about whether stories are pretend or real.

It is another night of literacy exercises, food, friendship, and family bonding for those who participate in Kalamazoo Public Schools’ Lift Up Through Literacy program.

The program is free and open to families with children of all ages from birth to 18. The program is held at nine sites around the community. The evening starts with free dinner. Children receive free books at each session, and families can earn incentives for attendance.

Most sites offer three levels of activities: one for families with children up to the age of 2, one for families of preschoolers, and one for school-age children. There are activities related to reading and math literacy, with an emphasis on parental involvement in the learning process.

Parent coaches offer suggestions on how to implement learning strategies, and parents put them into practice later in the sessions.

“I think it’s a good learning experience,” said Brittany Coggins de Pablo, who attends with her 3-year-old Elena Pablo Coggins. “I learn things. She learns things. Education is important to us.”

Parents Kawther Mohammed, who was at Skyridge with her son Ghazi Awad, 2, and Aaliya Buchanan, who was attending with her son Nasir BuchananBrewer, 3, both said the resources of the program are a tremendous draw. Their children enjoy the free books and the activities, which are easy to translate to home life.

Barbara Witzak, director of Lift Up Through Literacy, said the lessons taught in Lift Up are crafted to align with the broader KPS curriculum. Curriculum coordinators offer suggestions about strategies and themes that children will see in their classrooms in school.

“It’s all linked together,” Witzak said.

The program is flexible to meet the needs of families. There is childcare available for families that might have children of different ages. Older children can also help with younger siblings. If families need to split into different age groups, other parents will often offer to help work with children when their parents move to a different part of the program.

Maggie Levi was attending with her 2-year-old Vashti and her son Jeremiah, who is a second-grader at Prairie Ridge Elementary School. She praised the program for making it convenient for families.

“I like learning new concepts and theories about education,” she said. “My daughter has increased her vocabulary, and my son has the opportunity to read and socialize with other kids learning to read. So, it’s been a good experience for both of my children.”

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