Since 1986, Literacy Action of Central Arkansas (LACA) has worked with volunteer tutors to provide basic literacy and English language instruction to thousands of adults. Nearly 150,000 people in central Arkansas struggle with basic literacy skills, and more than 93 million Americans read at or below a basic level.
Literacy struggles can impact nearly every facet of a person’s life, from applying to jobs to understanding a prescription medicine label. LACA works to address these issues in the form of one-on-one volunteer tutors and programs that specialize in helping illiterate and ESL populations.
One of those programs is Project LIFT, a free, six-week program that stands for Literacy Inspiring Family Transformations. Launched in the spring of 2018, the program is designed to bring children and parents together by promoting literacy in the home through reading, speaking, and art activities.
“For the kids, it’s to help them in school,” said Sarah Standridge, Director of Adult Literacy Programs. “At the same time, it’s also for the parents to understand the importance of reading in the home.”
After launching last spring, Project LIFT’s program last summer grew quickly in size despite a small budget and little time to advertise. As the program started to expand its reach, the LACA staff wanted to make sure it was attracting the people who needed it the most.
“We wanted to know how we can attract the kind of people who need our help,” Standridge said. “A lot of the families that attended the early sessions were already book lovers. We wanted to know, how do we attract those families that need our help, who are maybe on the edge of success in the school system, to come to the program and to benefit the most from it? What are the types of things they want to learn?”
To help answer those questions, the Clinton School team – made up of Bailey Fohr (Nashville, Tenn.), Nathan Keltch (Little Rock, Ark.), Justin Murdock (Conway, Ark.), Jerome Wilson, Jr. (Portsmouth, Va.) – set up focus groups and interviews with past participants of the program to get their insight on what makes the program appealing.
“The summer program (in 2018) was a success but in different ways than expected, which is the great thing about the Clinton School focus group,” said Kathleen Conley, LACA Director of Development. “We get to tailor this year’s program to those comments.”
In addition to interviews and focus groups, the team conducted independent research on family literacy programs across the country to evaluate their different successes. The group also looked at a wide range of literacy research to help inform their suggestions.
“It’s easy to forget how critical literacy is; it’s such a base skill,” Keltch said. “The work LACA is doing is incredibly important. If you know how to read, you can apply for jobs and get better housing and become healthier and continue to educate yourself.”
This month, the team will present its research and recommendations for Project LIFT to the LACA staff.
“Having a group like the Clinton School group come in and assess our program, especially in its first year, is great in terms of sustainability and longevity of the services we provide,” Conley said. “We can maximize their efficiency.”