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Two Outstanding Programs that put Students First

January 5, 2023

Like a proud parent, when we see our member programs going above and beyond to find innovative ways to serve students, we want to tell the world. 

Over the past few years, as programs were challenged at every turn, two of our member programs found ways to thrive. Every two years at our ProLiteracy Conference on Adult Education, we recognize programs that are doing outstanding things. This past October, we honored the South Bay Literacy Council of Torrance, California with the Award for Distance Learning Excellence. Our Award for Program Innovation and Collaboration went to Seeds of Literacy of Cleveland, Ohio.  

The Award for Distance Learning Excellence 

For 40 years, the volunteer-run South Bay Literacy Council, has transformed lives by providing free instruction for adults learning to read, write, and speak English. Prior to the pandemic, tutoring was held in person, and paperwork was recorded with hard copies. 

But when the pandemic hit and shutdowns became necessary, a small group of South Bay Literacy Council’s dedicated volunteers did what they had to do and began tutoring online. Their action inspired other tutors to attend webinars to learn about remote instruction. Over time, the cadre of volunteers tutoring online increased from fewer than 10 to over 60!  

But what do you do with so many tutors when most learners don’t have their own devices to learn remotely? Keeping instruction as uninterrupted as possible was crucial to students’ success, so South Bay started loaning tablets to students, and volunteers provided instruction on how to use them. South Bay also kept students informed about free and reliable broadband programs and encouraged them to borrow Wi-Fi from local establishments and libraries. The Council also provided tech-phobic individuals with personalized training to reduce anxieties and fears.  

Keeping instruction as uninterrupted as possible was crucial to students’ success.

While the personal connection of tutoring and meeting face-to-face is beneficial, South Bay’s leadership has seen positive results from online instruction. The program’s geographic territory has expanded exponentially, volunteers save travel time by meeting virtually, and expenses like childcare and rent are lower when parents attend online classes. 

Those dedicated South Bay volunteers realized they couldn’t lose sight of their mission no matter the obstacle. Now they are poised to be better than ever. 

Award for Program Innovation and Collaboration 

Our Award for Program Innovation and Collaboration recognizes accomplishments resulting from a collaboration between different types of organizations, and this year’s recipient is a shining example of how collaboration expands impact. 

In the spring of 2020, Seeds of Literacy, was approached by representatives from Case Western Reserve University’s (CWRU) Office of Interprofessional and Interdisciplinary Education and Research. CWRU was looking to its nonprofit partners for projects to support. It turns out, the staff at Seeds—who know basic literacy and health are deeply intertwined—was planning to develop health literacy materials to contextualize their science curriculum.  

The organizations agreed to team up to develop a health literacy curriculum with students from the university’s medical, dental, social work, and physician’s assistant programs. CWRU students created health literacy lessons at three different reading levels. 

Seeds was able to use the health lessons to provide a rationale for learning about science beyond just passing the high school equivalency exam.

The project addressed two important needs. First, adult learners at Seeds had expressed an interest in learning more about health topics that are important to them—things like preventing, understanding, and treating chronic health conditions. Secondly, research suggests that contextualizing literacy instruction can lead to greater gains in literacy skills. Seeds was able to use the health lessons to provide a rationale for learning about science beyond just passing the high school equivalency exam. 

But the partnership also taught the university students some things firsthand. They learned how to identify the impact between basic literacy and health literacy, how to level readings for different ability levels, and how to work on an interdisciplinary team. 

The collaboration succeeded because each partner had a clear objective that met the unique needs of their students.