Community Literacy - We Never Close





It's freezing out. Cheryl's inside a doorway talking with a family, waiting while they choose their books for the week. I'm out beside the wagon, doing the cold foot shuffle. Somebody comes along, on their way to someplace else, and stops to talk for a bit. Talk turns to the Reading Room program.

her: "How's your class going?"

me: "It's not. Nobody comes."

her: "It's not that I didn't like going."

me: "Well... It just didn't work, eh? Something about the time or the place didn't work for people."

her: "Well, it worked for me."

me: "Really?"

her: "Yeah. It was just the time. I was always getting called into work. But, I mean, at least I learned a couple of things."

The Reading Room really didn't work. It scarcely even happened. I spent lots of hours there looking down that empty hallway, waiting.

Over the past 6 months I've I had 5 learners go through. Two were short term. They needed the kind of information or support I could give them in three or fewer sessions. Two came with longer-term learning goals. Each left after about five weeks because they had other, greater calls on their time.

One other, who I still support, came from outside the neighbourhood. For this learner, it was inconvenient and, frankly, unsafe, for them to come all the way over to the Courts to do what we could have done as well at the library or in other city locations.

Since then, I've been contacted by four other people. Though two of them live in the neighbourhood, none particularly needs the Reading Room (though one will make use of the public access computers at the Centre).

The safety issue is real. Despite the fact that there is a (often empty) Community Policing Office in the Centre, the neighbourhood is a much rougher, much darker place than it was, say, 5 years ago. But, more to the point, the Centre itself is often empty. The teen program is strong. The Knitting Therapy group is growing. There have been 3 or 4 big-draw children's events. But the anticipated daily traffic just isn't there.

Does that mean there's no community literacy going on?

No. It only means that, right now, supporting community literacy is a more in-the-moment, informal affair.

Let me give you an example.

You'll recall that at while I was waiting outside, my colleague was inside a house, engaged in literacy support. Here's how she related it to me a few moments later:

The mom wants to do mother goose. I was asking her about knitting. But she wasn't interested. Then I thought, 'I know all that mother goose stuff. She has a one year old and a two year old, and she wants to learn songs.' So we did Round and Round the Garden Goes the Teddy Bear. She said, "That's the teddy bear song! She keeps trying to sing it. I don't know it. She learned it at daycare." So, we'll see if we can do mother goose in March, April, May.... This time of year's too cold.

So we'll do a mother goose type program, probably in March, probably at the Centre, probably as unfunded volunteers. Maybe several families will come, maybe only one. But we'll do our best and see what happens.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to email somebody - two somebodies actually, one of whom wants help with their resume and cover letter. Then I need to call somebody else who's asking for computer help. Then I want to read another chapter of Donny Schön's Reflective Practitioner. That's the paradox: empty hallways, always busy.

But, then, that's Community Literacy.

Quality Learning NB. We never close.


1 comment:

michael chalk said...

g'day Wendell, i've had days like this too, where the whole class just didn't show. Doesn't feel great, but what can you do ;-]

And there's a good case to be made for having some kind of drop-in open access approach to adult literacy.

Georgina Nou from Alice Springs used to talk about their drop-in "Deadly Mob" internet cafe, where people could pursue their own (literacy & technology) learning .. often coming in only months later.

Every student had a folder .. and there were many suggested activities for learning, from which people could choose.

best regards, michael