Award-winning Literacy Network wants tutor program

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Matt Gardner
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After receiving a national award for their innovative child-care worker training program, the Prince Albert Literacy Network (PALN) isn’t resting on its laurels.

Delphine Melchert (left) receives the Great-West Life, London Life and Canada Life Literacy Innovation Award on behalf of the Prince Albert Literacy Network from Great-West Life Program Manager of Community Relations Christina MacIsaac. The Awards took place at the Thompson Landry Gallery in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 27.

Delphine Melchert, co-ordinator of the Child Care Worker Preparation for Certification Program, was in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 27 to accept the Great-West Life, London Life and Canada Life Literacy Innovation award on behalf of the PALN. It was the inaugural year for the award, which the non-profit group ABC Life Literacy Canada bestows upon organizations that show innovation and success in teaching adult literacy and essential skills.

The PALN received a $20,000 cheque with the award and plans to invest some of the cash in starting a community volunteer tutor program for people needing to improve their reading, writing or basic math skills.

“We’re seeing calls at a weekly … if not daily (rate) of adults needing literacy help, or having someone phone in with adults in their life needing literacy help,” PALN family literacy co-ordinator Brenda Lee said. “At the moment, there’s no one-on-one tutoring available for people in the city. So in looking at meeting that demand, (we had) the idea of re-establishing a tutor program and working towards that as a goal.”

The award-winning PALN program prepared students for child-care work through both classroom lessons and in-the-workplace training.

“What we did through this was something called authentic learning,” PALN volunteer Kim Orynik said. “These participants were able to learn about the skills and techniques and knowledge of their career area of early childhood education in the daycare centres. The daycare centres were their classroom, so the workplace and the children were their classroom, the children were their teachers … Those students developed actual concrete early childhood education from the authentic workplace rather than from the books and the web and the teachers and the classrooms.

“That really prepared them to go on to actually be able to work in a post-secondary early childhood certification program, so they’re now moved on to the early childhood program. But this was a bridge. This was an entry or an open window for them to come through, and that’s what made part of it unique, I think, that we haven’t seen anywhere else in Canada.”

Let’s build this tutor program. We’ve got a dream, but we want to do it right. Kim Orynik

With their experience building an award-winning program, PALN will draw on other successful case studies to create the best possible volunteer tutor initiative.

“We are not simply re-establishing (the tutor program),” Melchert said. “We are establishing it, because we are looking at other programs in Saskatchewan specifically, and finding out what works in cities with one-on-one tutoring and choosing to fashion ours, taking what works there and take the flavor of the Prince Albert community. So we’re looking forward to starting that.

“This ($20,000) is a good amount … of money that we can form a foundation to the tutor program that we’re wanting to start in Prince Albert … If you have a look at some of the waiting lists, especially for low literacy students, it’s very long. Anywhere between two to four years is what we’re looking at in terms of (if) you’re interested in taking your Level 1 and 2 literacy. You can expect that you’re going to be on a waiting list. You will not get in right away. And so often that deters learners, and they give up.”

The PALN is hoping to draw from its experiences on an initial project last year in which tutors, trainers and co-ordinators were all volunteers. Orynik said the tutor project would build on that foundation, along with the prize money and the sheer commitment and enthusiasm of volunteers.

“Let’s build this tutor program,” she said. “We’ve got a dream, but we want to do it right. We want to get the foundation set, and ad hoc isn’t going to answer the need of the people who are phoning Brenda weekly. We’d like to do it right and this is going to help us get started to do it.”

Organizations: Great-West Life, Canada Life Literacy Innovation, ABC Life Literacy Canada Prince Albert

Geographic location: Toronto, Canada, Saskatchewan

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