Growing Readers and Building Families
October 21, 2022
Utilizing early childhood literacy fundamentals, the Growing Leaders, Developing Leaders (GRDL) program has found a way to bring families together to improve reading literacy, brain development, and interactive learning for households throughout the Community.
The GRDL program centers on the correlation between children’s access to books and their reading habits; preparing preschool students for kindergarten; raising academic achievement by focusing on book scarcity and the daily habit of reading. The program hopes to be a transformative change engine for families and Community.
The program began in 2016 as a four-year grant project funded by the Native Youth Community Project through the Tribal Education Department dedicated to promoting literacy, culture, and communication throughout GRIC. Tribal Education’s Gila River Head Start and Child Care Partnership program oversaw the GRDL program after the four-year grant ended. Today, it continues to offer families literacy workshops. GRDL is also unique because it’s owned and copy-written by GRIC, retaining the development within the Community.
“The importance of Growing Readers is families learn why reading to their child in the early stages of development is vital to their children growing up to be successful readers, encouraging strong daily habits of reading, and building that bond between the child and their family as they become school ready readers,” said Charlotte Forte, Literacy Coordinator for GRDL and Gila River Head Start Program and Partnership. “The Growing Readers goal is to build a community of successful adults who are lifelong readers,”
This program was impactful during the pandemic when children were secluded from their peers and affected by virtual learning at home. The program also provides culturally relevant books as a resource for GRIC families since the Community is considered a “book desert.” The term “book desert” refers to the notion that access to libraries and reading materials isn’t as available as in neighboring towns and cities.
“Some lessons, we’ll be rolling on the ground or jumping around and some parents hesitate to participate but we assure them that it’s ok to have fun,” said Alma Valencia, Family Services Coordinator for Gila River Head Start program and GRDL co-host. “Then sometimes we notice the men aren’t ready to go there but we remind them, ‘yea you’re a man but you’re also a father,’ and so it’s awesome to see them participate and model that for their children.”
One of the biggest benefits of GRDL is that it provides families with the eight highlighted workshop books and sixteen books per participating child. They found that some families can’t afford to purchase books, so the added benefit of keeping them after the program is a great incentive and helps build their home libraries.
GRDL is an eight-week program with a curriculum that provides fun and engaging workshops for families to work alongside their children. The one-hour weekly workshops feature games, crafts, singing, and role-playing. The level of interaction is critical for the success of the children’s participation and learning, tasking parents and guardians’ involvement in ways virtual learning didn’t provide.
The program’s initial goal was to serve over 400 families, and due to its growing popularity GRDL exceeded that within four years of the initial grant. Exceeding the goal was remarkable, considering that some programming was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We saw grandparents, new mothers and parents participate and they all loved working with their kids and learning together,” said Kristen Dosela, GRDL trainer. “And as a new mother, myself, I found myself learning about how I can use the lessons and work with my newborn.”