Literacy Matters Abbotsford adapts for pandemic

As the literacy outreach coordinator for Literacy Matters Abbotsford since 2011, Sharon Crowley says 2020 has been challenging but she is celebrating the successes.

Sharon works with local organizations to find literacy gaps and problem-solve ways to meet the literacy needs of the Abbotsford community. She coordinates reading programs for children and families, and programs for adults to upgrade their basic education skills.

“It’s connecting with people and organizations that I really like about my work. It’s kind of like a wedding planner,” she says about her role, “you find the right people and places and fit all the pieces together.”

This year, planning has meant adapting programs and events to accommodate the Covid-19 pandemic.

Students connect to tutors online

Sharon established new ways to deliver the Fostering Literacy program at two Abbotsford elementary schools. Fostering Literacy is typically an in-person program that pairs an adult or teen with an elementary to encourage a love of reading. It emphasizes building a relationship and establishing trust through reading, discussion and activities.

“In September, we didn’t know whether we could run programs at all. There were so many roadblocks.”

Now tutors stay at home and students are in the classroom supervised by an education assistant. The tutor and student ‘meet’ online using Google Meets and Epic! Book platforms.

“I sat on the couch with my laptop on one side and my cell phone on the other, helping people through login and other technical issues,” says Sharon. “But we did it. It warms my heart to know the students will still have their tutors.”

Read what you love

She has also adapted Family Literacy Week celebrations. Abbotsford’s annual “Read What You Love Community Reading Challenge” in partnership with the Clearbrook Library has readers of all ages keep a reading log and track an extra 15 minutes of reading each day for 21 days, beginning January 31st. They submit their logs for a chance to win prizes like books and local gift certificates.

But this year, the usual accompanying kickoff events – a free (by donation) pancake breakfast cooked and served by firefighters and celebrations at the library where community organizations provide literacy booths and activities – are cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The ‘Read What You Love’ theme is important. Sharon says that readers of any age should find books that they love. “My own son didn’t find a book he liked until he was 8! It’s just so important that people read what they love to spur them on.”

Family literacy develops language skills

As well as reading what you love, simple family activities – like cooking, talking, playing and hiking together – all play an important role in the development of language skills.

“Adults have such an opportunity to inspire and be role models for children,” says Sharon. “Family Literacy Week creates awareness and reminds families to slow down and spend time together. It strengthens families, promotes learning and is fun! And often adults are learning just as much from the children.”

She also reinforces this year’s Family Literacy Week theme: Let’s Be Active!

“Any kind of physicality helps how you learn. It helps with focus and interpretation. Moving gets your brain working!”


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