Project READ Literacy Network
The importance of quality literacy education can’t be overstated, and both the Waterloo and Wellington Regions have demonstrated their commitment to ensuring all learners have access to the resources they need. And with the wide variety of well-regarded post-secondary institutions in this area, (University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, University of Guelph, and Conestoga College), it’s clear that learning can be a life-long pursuit.
So with that in mind, today we’re going to be looking at one of the best educational opportunities for adults and families looking to develop their literacy skills: the Project READ Literacy Network.
What is Project READ?
Project READ Literacy Network began nearly 30 years ago, on September 7th, 1988. It was founded by literacy agencies based in the Waterloo Region. At that time, the goal was simple: consolidate literacy training efforts through one, central agency, in order to best serve the community.
This would enable the pooling of resources, more potential for public outreach, and a greater capacity to promote and coordinate literacy services. Towards the mid-1990s, The Ontario government began to take an interest in local and regional literacy programs, modifying them where they already existed and implementing new ones where they did not yet exist.
In the case of Project READ, one of the pre-existing programs, the government expanded its purview to include both the Waterloo Region and the Wellington Region.
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Progress and Growth
Under the guidance of Executive Director Anne Ramsay, Project READ broadened the scope of its services to the community. Things like centralized educational assessments, made available through social services, would help support clients in their efforts to develop literacy skills.
Literacy programs in the Waterloo Region had highlighted literacy programming for families as a key area in need of development, but one for which they had not had enough funding. Now, Project READ did have the necessary funding, and in the 2000s, it developed the innovative, proactive Get Set Learn (GSL) series, which remains in use today (but more on it shortly).
As has been the case from Project READ’s earliest days, the network’s growth and success has much to do with its board and staff, whose commitment to the Waterloo and Wellington Regions, and developing literacy through and innovative ideas, ensures quality services throughout.
Projects and Services
At this time, Project READ has several unique literacy programs. Two of the primary ones, which we’ll expand upon shortly, are their Adult Literacy and Family Literacy programming. Others include Workplace Literacy (a program specifically designed for workplaces or companies, in which employees can cultivate literacy and communication skills related to their work) and Clear Language (helping participants learn how to communicate clearly and concisely, with consultation, auditing and more).
Project READ is also committed to Research and Development , using funding from a variety of sources to work on a wide range of literacy projects (manuals, family-friendly programs, and new learning strategies are but a few examples); and Professional Development, organizing workshops, sharing resources, and even running a certificate program with Conestoga College.
One of the main principles behind Project READ’s Family Literacy programs is that families can effectively improve their literacy together. By working through the Project READ Family Program as a group, parents can learn more, opening up more educational and employment opportunities, while also enabling their children to transition more smoothly into school.
Get Set Learn, as noted, is one of Project READ’s family-oriented series; it consists of programs for parents, grandparents, and children. The ultimate goal is to improve quality of life through literacy, for all parties involved, and the methods make it both thorough and fun (snacks, songs, play, and more are all incorporated into the process).
The main focus of this program is parents who are part of Ontario Works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Currently, Project READ is looking to open this program to lower income families and new arrivals to the country, too – people who could benefit from the program but aren’t part of OW or ODSP.
The ultimate goal is to end the poverty cycle through literacy; there is a strong correlation between illiteracy and poverty. As Project READ notes, “Low literate adults are 2.5 times more likely to experience unemployment compared to those at Level 3 +” (Project READ).
In order to achieve their goal of expanding the Family Literacy Program, Joanne Davis (Family Literacy Manager) has been developing programs with financial support from the Hallman Foundation and the Kitchener-Waterloo Community Foundation. As Project READ’s programming increasingly enables ESL, immigrant, and lower income families to take part, they are striving to develop each program based on the particular needs of the specific learners.
Adults Getting Out of Poverty
Literacy, just like education in general, can be a life-long project. And one of Project READ’s foundational goals is to provide literacy training to adults throughout the community, and in so doing, help to elevate them from the poverty cycle.
This, like the others, is a free service, and it’s for adults looking to develop confidence and literacy skills (it’s also great for adults who’ve had trouble with literacy, and are looking to go back to school).
Project READ is certified in Bridges Out of Poverty, an Ontario-wide framework looking to better understand and thereby combat poverty. Furthermore, with an Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation grant, Project READ is running a Getting Ahead in the Workplace program for individuals seeking steady employment.
By also partnering with the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin, which includes manufacturers struggling to find frontline staff, Project READ is truly providing multiple services to the community: assisting adults with literacy education and access to steady work (and, ultimately, successfully moving off of social assistance); and providing local employers with capable employees.
This all comes back to the reason why Project READ consolidated literacy groups throughout Waterloo (and later, Wellington): with a wider network, it is better able to engage with the community and provide a well-rounded service.
Future Plans and Hopes
Funding is needed to keep Project READ going. The services it provides to Waterloo and Wellington are incredibly important, particularly for adults and families living in poverty and hoping to get more control of their lives.
Let’s circle back to the point we started with: the importance of quality literacy education cannot be overstated. And with the impressive (and ever-growing) range of literacy services and programming Project READ provides, hopefully they will be able to receive the provincial and federal funding they need.
One of their long term goals is to increase the literacy skills of every Waterloo and Wellington resident over the age of 19 to minimum Essential Skills Level 3, which is considered the threshold for getting a keeping a job, and ceasing the cycle of illiteracy.
Education is a huge part of what makes the Waterloo and Wellington Regions tick, and we’re grateful that an organization like Project READ is here to ensure everyone has access to the literacy services they need.
We all want to see an end to poverty, and literacy training is one of the surest paths.
Written by Will Kummer