Storytelling school

between the lines: Literacy Connects celebrates 10 years of reading and storytelling | Currents function

The National Center for Education statistics estimate that nearly 5% of American adults are “functionally illiterate,” which can make it difficult to hold down a job, understand critical documents, and even navigate the world. For a decade, a local nonprofit has worked to improve reading comprehension and passion across the south. Arizona.

Literacy Connects is a non-profit organization that aims to provide people with opportunity through literacy and creative expression. Literacy Connects CEO Matt Tarver-Wahlquist said the organization has grown a lot over the past 10 years.

Literacy Connects was born out of a Tucson regional town hall. The group was examining the factors that affected the well-being and economic health of the Tucson community. They identified literacy as the most important factor in a person’s economic well-being, so they sought to improve the literacy landscape in Tucson.

They identified a number of small organizations doing literacy work in Tucson, including Literacy Volunteers of Tucson, Reading Seed, Stories that Soar!, Reach out and Read Southern Arizona, and Literacy for Life Coalition. They felt that if these organizations joined together to form one large literacy organization, it would better serve the community.

On July 1, 2011, these five organizations merged into one organization: Literacy Connects. The nonprofit still runs many of its founding organizations’ programs, including Reading Seed for children and various adult literacy programs.

The Reading Seed program began by focusing on children in kindergarten through fifth grade. Teachers would recommend individual students who would receive reading coaches. Although they continue to do so, they are now focusing more on kindergarten through second grade, as they have found that starting earlier yields better results.

Literacy Connects also offers preparation for adult basic literacy and general education development tests in English and Spanish. When the pandemic started, they moved services online and they were able to help people they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to reach. They realized that offering online classes worked better for some people who had transportation issues or other difficulties.

Literacy Connects provides services to all ages and serves over 40,000 people in a typical year. They also partner with the International Rescue Committee to provide English lessons for refugees and have a garden on their property where refugees can grow their own food, according to Tarver-Wahlquist.

While they have only 30 employees, they call on the skills of more than 1,000 volunteers.

Hope Beck Goldsmith has been a volunteer at Reading Seed for five years and currently works with two kindergartners and a first grader.

“It’s so special to connect one-on-one with the kids,” Goldsmith said. “I see the same kids every week, all school year, so we’ve formed a relationship.”

Tarver-Wahlquist said volunteers fulfill an important role.

“They don’t teach kids to read, teachers teach kids to read,” Tarver-Wahlquist said. “What we do is we try to get kids to identify as than readers.”

In the Reading Seed program, they pair a volunteer with a student and they meet one-on-one. The volunteer brings them a book each time they meet and the student can take the book home. This allows volunteers to learn about children’s interests and find books that would interest the student.

“In doing so, we create a positive association between the child and between reading, so that this book in front of them is not something someone is forcing them to do, it’s not boring, it’s not is not a task”, Tarver-Wahlquist mentioned. “It’s actually something they want to be a part of and want to be involved in.”

Another program is Stories that Soar, where they partner with a school and bring a box called “the magic box”. The idea of ​​the magic box is that it eats stories, so children have the opportunity to write stories and feed them into the magic box.

Since there is no teacher grading the stories or anyone checking the grammar, the Stories that Soar program gives students the opportunity to focus on their creativity. Literacy Connects then collects the box and has a group of artists read the stories and select a few of the stories to be performed by professional actors in front of the school.

“It really excites kids to read and it honors their stories by trying to do something high quality with them,” Tarver-Wahlquist said.

When the pandemic hit, they couldn’t do stage shows anymore, so they changed Stories that Soar to Stories that Stream. They brought in professional artists, clay animation specialists, animators, actors, and green screens to piece together these stories through the film.

The Reach Out and Read program partners with pediatric clinics to train pediatricians on how to incorporate literacy into parent health visits. When pediatricians provide information on baby care, they are also able to provide parents with a book to take home and encourage parents to read to their children.

They encourage parents to let children hold the book, turn the pages, and not feel like they have to follow the story so their children can engage more with the book and reading.

Literacy Connects programs rely on volunteers, which has been a challenge since the COVID outbreak.

“Volunteers are what keep us going, and volunteers are what we need, especially for the next school year that is coming up,” said Tarver-Wahlquist.

Literacy Connects celebrates its 10th anniversary in the courtyard of the Tucson Museum of Art on May 6 at 6 p.m. Tickets for the 10th Anniversary Dinner can be purchased on their website. The event will include a dinner and a series of speakers sharing inspiring stories from the past 10 years of Literacy Connects. v

Anyone interested in volunteering can apply at