Building Home Libraries and Community Connections

In October 2020, the Collaborative Fund for Educating Remotely and Transforming Schools awarded the Intergenerational Schools a $124,000 grant to launch A Family Approach to K-3 Literacy, a reading program that will have long-term positive outcomes for reading instruction at our schools for years to come.

While our response to the initial pandemic shutdown during the 2019-2020 school year ensured our students had the technology necessary to learn at home, the lack of shared resources and extended virtual learning setting for this past school year posed another challenge: It kept our students away from one of their favorite (and most important) resources, the school library.

“In school, every Wednesday students go to the library to swap out the books in their classroom book bins,” said Molly Toussant, Director of Curriculum for the Intergenerational Schools. “We soon came to realize that many of our kids didn’t have access to books beyond what we sent home with them. All the public libraries and bookstores were still closed. Whatever the family had was what the students had access to.”

Toussant and her colleagues designed A Family Approach to K-3 Literacy to maintain effective reading instruction through three strategies: setting up home libraries for students in the most critical stages of learning to read, developing teachers’ skills in delivering personalized reading instruction, and establishing a training program for learning partners to support a community of effective, culturally competent reading education.

The Right Stuff: Not Just Any Books

“Putting a book into the hands of a child is not that simple,” Toussant said. “You want to make sure that three-fourths of the books kids are reading are at their level, that they address their interests, and that representation of characters matches who they are and what they experience in life.”

Rather than rely on programs that offer used children’s books without vetting, we needed to work with our teachers to meet the needs and interests of each student.

Through A Family Approach to K-3 Literacy, the Intergenerational Schools provided a total of 16,185 books to 440 students, reaching all students in the Emerging Stage, Beginning Stage and Developing Stage across our three schools. Most of these books arrived through the mail in early 2021, as Cuyahoga County’s COVID numbers remained too high for the school to reopen through most of February.

These special deliveries reignited excitement around reading across the schools; students were eager to discuss their books with their peers, teachers and learning partners. These home libraries joined a growing array of approaches to building connections between school and family.

Learning Partners Return to the Intergens 

Learning partners have been a hallmark of the Intergenerational Schools for over 20 years. The role learning partners play is deeper than a reading buddy or tutor. Through a shared love of learning, they form bonds with students that last for years, providing an additional and consistent layer of support within the schools. “It takes a village, and to me Intergenerational Schools is a good village to be a part of,” said Vicki Jackson a TIS-East and Near West Learning Partner. 

Unfortunately, in March 2020, this program was abruptly halted due to the rapid spread of COVID-19. Relationships between older adults and students were interrupted leaving students without this additional special person committed to their wellbeing and success. This program helped to restore those relationships and wrap each Emerging, Primary, and Developing stage student with a community of support that included their family, teacher, and learning partner.  

Advanced professional development for reading teachers and learning partners was also built into this program. Through several sessions, they received training on reading instruction aligned with the Intergenerational Schools approach to learning, with 85% of teachers reporting that the training helped increase their confidence in reading instruction. 

The learning partner training component of this program enabled learning partners to join their classes on Zoom as virtual learning continued. “Many of our learning partners are older adults who are unaccustomed to a lot of this technology,” Toussant said. “To bring them into our online classrooms, we had to teach them how to do some pretty advanced things on Zoom.” 

In a conversation with Toussant, one learning partner shared a story that underscores the mutual benefit of the intergenerational learning model: “As much as I practiced on Zoom, I forgot exactly what I was supposed to do, but the kids talked me through it. I told them, ‘we really are learning partners, aren’t we?’” 

At the end of the program, 86 learning partners spent 845 hours reading with students. “As we enter into the new school year, our hope is for these relationships to continue flourishing, possibly inside of the school building and throughout our communities,” said Brooke King, executive director for the Intergenerational Schools. “We are using everything we learned about this new way of engaging learning partners and to pilot a math program during the 2021-2022 school year.”

This story was featured in our 2020 annual report. Explore the full report at igschools.org/2020annualreport.