P.A. Literacy Network wins national award

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Matt Gardner
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An innovative local literacy program that trains and finds jobs for child-care workers is attracting national attention.

Participants in the Child Care Worker Preparation for Certification Program enjoy the "123 — Play With Me" family literacy training in January. From left to right: Violet LaFaver, Betty Eyahpaise, Lucy Veuillot and Rachel Hoskins.

ABC Life Literacy Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing Canadian literacy, has named the Prince Albert Literacy Network the top winner of its Great-West Life, London Life and Canada Life Literacy Innovation Award.

The award recognizes innovation and success across the country in teaching adult literacy and essential skills. Along with top honours, the P.A. Literacy Network receives a prize of $20,000.

“What we were looking for from the applicants was a program that demonstrated innovation,” ABC Life Literacy Canada president Margaret Eaton said. “I think what the committee particularly liked about the Prince Albert Literacy Network was the innovative way that they took adult learners from Level 1 and 2 literacy — so this is below a high school level of education — and led them directly into a program that would lead to employment.”

The Child Care Worker Preparation for Certification Program helps students prepare for an online test certifying them for child-care work. Funding comes from the Ministry of Education with criteria targeting Level 1 and 2 readers, First Nations peoples, Métis and/or the unemployed.

The original idea for the program came from project co-ordinator Delphine Melchert after a discussion with Family Futures director Donna Strauss.

“I was working with another project and we were doing a literacy plan,” Melchert said. “I had talked to her about what she saw as the issues in Prince Albert, and she told me about the lack of child-care workers at the time. So that’s where we got our initial information and the idea for where to go with this.”

Bringing together workers who needed jobs with an industry that needed workers was a stroke of brilliance. Melchert wrote a program that combined practical literacy lessons, such as streamlining Internet searches, with work skills preparation, digital proficiency, Aboriginal culture classes taught by local Elders, and valuable certifications including first aid, WHMIS, CPR and FoodSafe.

“We wanted to do more than just do a work prep program, where they might get an entry-level job in a service industry,” Melchert said. “We wanted to do more than that. We wanted to look at a career path for these folks that do not have a high school diploma.

One of the great things about this award is it really shines a spotlight, not only on the best programs that are out there, but on learners who are seeking out these programs in order to improve their lives. Margaret Eaton

“We know they have lots of skills … They know how to deal with life. Many of them have children already. They’ve had to overcome many obstacles. They have lots of life literacy. We felt they would be extremely good child-care workers, and the real telling thing is that there was such a need for child-care workers in the community.”

Out of 85 applicants, 20 were selected for the program, which lasted four months from October to February. Classes ran from Mondays to Thursdays for three hours starting at 1 p.m. — the better to work around the schedules of the participants, many of whom were parents.

As in-class instruction ended, participants undertook job shadowing at Family Futures. They were assigned to shifts and worked alongside child-care workers.

Many enrollees have already found work in their field.

“Some of them have been hired and some of them are waiting until they complete their (online) course,” Melchert said.

In recognition of the program’s success, Melchert will travel to Toronto to accept the Life Literacy award in person on Sept. 27.

“This whole issue of adult literacy is one that doesn’t get as much kind of attention as children’s literacy,” Eaton said. “One of the great things about this award is it really shines a spotlight, not only on the best programs that are out there, but on learners who are seeking out these programs in order to improve their lives.

“It takes a tremendous amount of courage in some cases to go back to school, to go back into this environment, especially if you’ve struggled somehow through your career even through high school. Sometimes people don’t even get their high school diploma at the end of all of that, and it can be difficult, so we really honour those learners who’ve decided that this is important to them.”

Organizations: P.A. Literacy Network, ABC Life, Prince Albert Literacy Network Family Futures Ministry of Education First Nations

Geographic location: Canada, Prince Albert, Toronto

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