My name is Mamie Smith, and I am a teacher, business woman, author, and inspirational speaker/writer, but most of all, I am delighted to be here. Before I talk about how we can improve literacy in our homes, churches and communities, I would like to tell you a true story.
There was a young man who had worked very hard, and had earned quite a bit of money. So, he decided to treat himself by going to a very special restaurant. He felt very good about himself, as the head waiter led him to his seat, handed him the menu, and told him, that he would give him a few minutes to look it over. Beaming, the young man took the menu, looked at it and . . . his heart sank. Frantically, he thought, “Where are the pictures?” You see, this young man couldn’t read, and worst of all, he did not want anyone to know it. It had been easy to skate by in restaurants with menus with pictures, because all he had to do was point to the picture and tell the waiter what he wanted, but this one had none. What was he going to do? He was so overwhelmed with guilt and shame ,that it never occurred to him to say to the waiter, “What is your favorite thing on the menu” or tell me what you think would be good to me.” This way, he would have at least known what was offered, and he could have made a choice, just as he had done by pointing to the pictures. What did he do? He made up some ridiculous story about having forgotten that he was suppose to be somewhere else, and left the restaurant, completely devastated. There are many men and women walking the streets with the same story. What are we going to do about it?
That’s what this meeting is about.
Let’s define what we mean, when we use the word, “literacy?” Simply put, it means ‘knowing how to read and write.” The first place it begins, is in our homes. If Mom and Dad can’t read and write, how are they going to teach Mary and Johnny? The answer is, they can’t. So, we have three choices, Teach Mom, Dad, Johnny and Mary to read and write, teach Mary and Johnny and let them teach Mom and Dad, or nobody learns to read and write. So, they wander through the pathways of life, using pictures and memory to get along. Friends, we can do better!
Studies reveal that children who have participated in Head Start Programs, have greater school success and avoid crime. Why? Because they feel included in the process of learning, and they feel included, because they are able to make their own contribution, which in turn, gives the self-motivation, and self-esteem.
The Head Start Curriculum varies at centers, but most seek to do three things:
- Promote teacher-child interaction through reading and singing.
- Provide materials that hold the attention of all age levels.
- Teach children the alphabet.
- Create a play-based and supportive environment, that focuses on nutrition and health.
The most important elements that parents need in learning to read and write, are courage, confidence, persistence, and the ability to overcome the fear of “not being able to do it,” because they have done it in the past. You can! If you have the courage, you have the ability.
What is the role of the church? The mere fact that you have this meeting tonight, shows that you arealready reaching into the homes. Where I grew up in the heartland of the deep south, the church was the central force of our community—the nucleus from which everything evolved. It was the force that guided my life since the age of 12, and still does. It gathered the people together, set the tone, and gave us the moral fiber to what we needed to do. It seems that my church and your church are on the same page.
Now, the church and the family, walking together, can reach out into the community. What can we expect to receive by involving the community? Volunteers that read stories to children, assist with indoor and outdoor activities, file paperwork, stuff envelopes, gather and donate items to send home with children that continue their literary skills in the home, and teach adult classes to aid Mom and Dad. And of course, you can always donate money.
Forming a partnership with family, church and community involvement, make us all winners, because when we win, the world wins.
I leave you with the vision of all Head Start Programs: And they are:
- All children should reach their full potential.
- Every child can succeed.
- Working together, we can impact the success of “at risk” children, and
- Quality education fundamentally transforms children and families.
TOGETHER WE STAND, DIVIDED, WE FALL