FIVE STARS: FAMILY LITERACY

Editor’s note: In 2011, for the fourth time in a row (and running), the Library Journal Index of Public Library Services, a public library rating system, designated Telluride’s Library a five-star institution. The Wilkinson Public Library ranks fifth in the nation among public libraries with annual budgets of $1 – 5 million, hence the name of library director Barb Brattin’s semi-regular column, “Five Stars.”

Barb Brattin, director, Wilkinson Public LIbrary

Barb Brattin, director, Wilkinson Public LIbrary (and Finn)

It’s no secret around town that One Telluride is currently looking for a new home. When Don Mitchell and I got together to talk about the future, I was struck by his comment that mothers often do not complete English training because their family duties pull them away from their own personal ambitions.

As a single mother for much of my adult life, I react to information like this in a pay-it-forward kind of way. Looking back on how difficult it was for me to complete both my undergraduate and graduate education while working full time and raising two boys, I recall how many people stepped up to help me. Knowing that there are mothers in our community who wish to improve their English skills and could use coaching on how to read to their children and support their education compels me to respond.  After all, the library’s mission statement begins, “Wilkinson Public Library challenges, inspires, engages and transforms by fostering a culture that supports each individual’s aspirations…”

Libraries have a long history of teaching children the joy of reading, story structure, and phonemic awareness. A strong public library sends school-ready children to their first day of kindergarten. In poorer communities across the U.S. the Federal government has supported expansion of the public library’s role toward “family literacy.”

Family Literacy programs involve the whole family by providing events during which parents and children can come together for social time, lessons to improve reading skills, and instruction on the best practices for making learning and reading a priority at home. PRIME TIME is the leading example of successful family literacy programs.

The six-week, award winning humanities-based program of reading, discussion, and storytelling was created in 1991 by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. The vast majority of participants are native English speakers who, for one reason or another, need remedial education.

Here at  the Wilkinson Public Library, hiring for a new Youth Services Manager presented an opportunity to add skills to our staff that could in turn add a family literacy component to Youth Services programming. Our locally based initiative could offer a chance for community parents to improve their English skills while spending family time together. We found the perfect candidate in Jill Wilson, a bilingual librarian experienced in family literacy at the Denver Public Library.

Now with us for two months, Jill has already begun Thursday evening events that draw 40-60 new faces to the library for story time, crafts, social time, and shared meals. I see mothers, still clad in their work clothes, relaxing and enjoying the library in the evening with their friends and their children, watching Jill demonstrate skills in reading to children. They are checking out children’s books in Spanish and English and learning about all our library has to offer. So valued is this time together that the mothers have begun to bring food to share, arriving several hours before the event just to hang out with other families. Emilio’s and La Cocina de Luz have generously donated food to share, expressing their support for this wonderful community gathering around family literacy.

If you know someone who needs a little help with their English skills or wants to know how best to engage with their child around reading, tell them about the library’s new Family Literacy nights.

Every family is welcome!

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