New literacy program at LSFN schools helping students succeed
Mike Lawrence - Staff Writer
A new program at Lac Seul First Nation’s schools wants to ensure that, when it comes to literacy and reading skills, no child gets left behind.
While the pandemic has negatively affected early learning and literacy for many children across the country, First Nations communities have seen the effects more than most. In a report issued to Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), Human Rights Watch states, in part, “The Covid-19 pandemic, and related school closures, has negatively affected children’s right to a quality education around the world. Indigenous children—both those living in and outside of Indigenous communities—frequently faced additional barriers to distance learning alternatives.”
A new initiative by Innovations for Learning Canada (IFLC) hopes to give local Indigenous communities the tools to fight these negative effects. The Innovations for Learning website describes the program as such, “Our specially trained Early Literacy Interventionists use our proprietary TutorMate software to provide face-to-face, 1:1, high dosage tutoring in phonics, sight word acquisition, fluency, and comprehension. This gives students in need more individualized instruction than the classroom teacher is able to provide. In a two-year, K-1 program, 78% of students taking part in our program were reading proficiently by the end of first grade.”
Lac Seul First Nation is one local community that the ILFC has recently expanded into, thanks to funding from the TELUS Friendly Future Foundation. Using a combination of online tutoring, proprietary software, and two in-community Early Learning Interventionists (ELIs), high need students are given the one-on-one instruction they need to help them succeed.
As Eric Bortlis, Director of Education for Lac Seul First Nation, states, “We are thrilled to have this new partnership with Innovations for Learning. We found that the digital platform made things extremely easy during at home learning while we were under school closures as well. What makes this unique is that Innovations for Learning helps to build local capacity by hiring two community members and giving them excellent training to help carry out the program here in Lac Seul, while their organization focuses on the software, scheduling and programming.”
One of those ELIs is Lac Seul resident Veronica Brisket. As Brisket explains, “I learned about the early literacy interventionist through a Facebook post that was shared through our local school page. I was juggling between applying, or going with homemaking for the elders. I’ve worked with the elders before but my main focus was kids. My whole life growing up I’ve always wanted a job that required working with the children within our community. In my daily conferencing with each student, I am teaching them the letter names and sounds of each letter, then we begin to move up by smaller words, consonant sounds, sight words and vowel blending. Through this program, it helps them reach their reading level and enhance it.”
Fabrice Grover is the Executive Director for Innovations for Learning Canada. As Grover explains, “We are a three-year-old charity in Canada, but a 28-year-old non-profit that operates globally in the US, the UK, and now Canada. I joined IFLC in New York. I’m originally from the Coast Salish community in Vancouver, but found the organization in New York when I was doing my masters there. I then brought the program to Canada about three years ago to support high need kids in inner cities but also in remote regions, supporting primarily Indigenous students in isolated communities. Innovations for Learning is a global non-profit committed to closing the early grade literacy gap for high need students and we do that through two programs. One is high dosage tutoring where we supply trained Early Literacy Interventionists to young students who then get five minutes of daily one on one instruction from this person. That’s usually someone that we hire from the community to serve that role. The other program is the Virtual Volunteer program, where we have volunteers from large corporations like TELUS signed up as virtual volunteers and dial in to classrooms and help children with reading fluency.” Grover continued, “The reason we do all this is that the data shows that kids who aren’t reading at grade level by the end of third grade are four times less likely to graduate high school. By the time they are 12, there is a five-year gap between those kids and the kids who entered school with a higher level of literacy. Thats why we are laser focused on Senior K and First Grade. Every year a hundred thousand kids in Canada don’t complete Grade 3 reading at grade level. That number is just going to go up with the pandemic.”
Kristin Ward, Principal of Obishikokaang Elementary School in Frenchman’s Head, had this to say about the program, “We have partnered with Innovations for Learning to support our students with early literacy skills. We were contacted by IFL, and had also heard about the program from some education colleagues who were involved in the program they have been running in Wikwemikong (First Nation). We will have 70 students from our three schools participating in the program, from Kindergarten to Grade 2.” Ward went on to say, “IFL has been able to hire two ‘Early Literacy Interventionists’ from the community. They (IFL) provide these staff training to provide daily 1:1 tutoring in basic literacy skills (phonics, sight words, fluency, and comprehension) for these students, using the TutorMate program. Students who are part of this programming will receive this tutoring, in addition to their regular classroom literacy programming.”
Ward added, “The goal of the program is to ensure that all students are able to read at grade level by the end of Grade 1, which has great benefits to students across the curriculum areas. Students in the participating classrooms will also have the opportunity to participate in enrichment tutoring with virtual volunteers from large corporations. They will get to read with their volunteer buddy once a week for 30 minutes through their online platform for the entire school year. This gives students extra time reading 1:1 with an adult to practice the skills they are working on throughout the week.”
Alisha Dasti-Hill is the Principal of Waninitawingaang Memorial School in Kejick Bay. As she explained, there are many facets to the program, stating, “We call ours Thunderbird hour! The goal is to foster their interests and teach skills for future endeavors. So far, we have done baking, beading, photography, photo editing, animation, song writing, music history, Lego, and cooking! The students and staff are really enjoying it. Students are learning about curiosity, growth mindset, persistence and grit, problem solving, embracing failure, empathy and adaptability.”
According to Brisket, the program is already showing progress in the children she sees one on one. “Quite a few students I’ve worked with already seem so advanced for their age and I’m just helping others catch up to those who are more advanced. Working one on one with the children is so great!”
Looking forward, the hope is that the program continues to provide struggling students the help they need. Bortlis finished by adding, “We look forward to seeing this program grow and develop in the years to come.”