Group effort aims to build literacy in Solano County

By Ryan Chalk/ RChalk@TheReporter.com
Posted: 08/28/2011 01:31:01 AM PDT
Vacaville Reporter

Boosting literacy rates and helping low-income families gain access to the Internet is the goal of a new partnership between the Solano County Library, area nonprofits, after-school clubs and a major cable and Internet provider.
Last week, elected officials, business leaders and directors from a handful of nonprofit after-school tutoring and mentoring organizations met in Fairfield at the Solano County Library Foundation offices to hear from Dilenna Harris, executive director of the library foundation, and staff on ways existing programs can partner with the library to boost academics, primarily in underserved areas. The plan calls for outreach to after school programs by library administrators to get them up to speed on an exciting online tutoring program as well as provide information on how to deliver Internet connectivity and computers to low-income families.

"So much of our education is technology-based," said Harris, who is on the Vacaville City Council. "And many of our kids don't have consistent access."

What the library foundation is looking to do is partner with after-school programs such as those run by local Boys & Girls Clubs chapters in Vallejo and Vacaville, The Leaven nonprofit after-school tutoring and mentoring programs in Fairfield, and Police Activities League programs in Vacaville and Fairfield to implement the Solano County Library's web-based live homework help program into their curriculum. Another push is to get students signed up for library cards, expose them to the library and express what a valuable resource it can be to them and their families.
Given the current economy, "It's important for all of these organizations to not try to reinvent the wheel but to use resources that are already available," Harris said.

Comcast has stepped in by offering low-cost Internet services to families with at least on child that receives free school lunches through the National School Lunch Program. For qualified families, Comcast will supply Internet in their homes for $9.95 per month and will also offer a laptop computer for $150.

The prospect of raising the achievement levels among the children they serve has people like Montoya Graham and Mark Lillis anxious to get started.

"One of the big things is, how do we use the different library services that are available?" said Lillis, executive director of The Leaven, a nonprofit after school tutoring and mentoring program that has locations in a handful of troubled Fairfield neighborhoods. "That part is really important."

Lillis and Graham, executive director of the Vacaville Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club, share Harris' enthusiasm of getting staff members and the teenage youth of the nonprofit centers trained on how to use the live, online tutoring programs so that they become mentors for the younger kids; training them how to use the program and instilling good study habits.

Leaders hope that will translate into better marks in school, especially if they can continue those habits at home. And it doesn't end there. According to Harris, adult literacy staffers from the library are set to assist parents in ways to better utilize the library's services and the Internet.

"The library already has these resources available," Harris said. "Let's use them."
Graham said the partnership addresses two key issues: Literacy and connecting kids to technology.
"It's just huge," Graham said.

"I was actually amazed with the tutoring program," he added. "I wish I had that when I was in school."
Harris said she hopes the program will be implemented at various sites across the county by late October.
"The children should not be sitting back, suffering for a lack of help. Help is available. It's here. And it's significant," Harris said.

However, the online tutoring program comes at a cost.

Hosted by the online site www.tutor.com, it is subscription-based and currently costs the library about $80,000 per year, or roughly $8 a session. It is free to anybody with a library card and the hope is that some measurable results will come out of the nonprofit centers that embrace it. Those returns can hopefully be impressed upon donors to help fund its continued expansion.

"We're going to need help to make sure that every child who wants access to tutoring help has it," Harris said.
For information or to help with costs associated with the program, contact Harris at the Solano County Library Foundation at 421-8075 or dilennaharris@solanolibraryfoundation.org.



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