Helping Teen Parents Teach Early Literacy Skills With The Very Ready Reading Program
More than 1,000 high school kids roam the halls of the Four County Career Center (FCCC) in Archbold, Ohio, balancing classes, extracurricular activities and social events. But the FCCC is no ordinary high school. Composed entirely of juniors and seniors who have clear career goals in mind, the students here spend half of their time in traditional academic classes and the other half learning and training in their chosen fields, which range from health care to cosmetology to culinary arts.
When Christine Badenhop, School Library Media Specialist, arrived at FCCC four years ago, she immediately noticed the lack of students using the school library. “Many students get burned out from reading for their classes,” she says. “My goal is to create a positive association for students with books and libraries and increase their appreciation for literacy into adulthood.”
Reaching Out to Teen Parents
There was one group of students in particular that Badenhop, along with GRADS (Graduation Reality and Dual Role Skills) instructor Julie Mangas, hoped to attract to the library — teen parents.
“We wanted to help teen parents learn about the concept of early literacy to teach their own children,” says Badenhop.
Enter The Very Ready Reading Program. A comprehensive early literacy program that features themed storytimes, The Very Ready Reading Program is filled with songs, rhymes, activities and book lists, as well as simple ways for parents to infuse early literacy into their everyday routines. Activities are based on the 7 Days 7 Ways principles of early literacy development: share books, share sounds, share words, share rhymes, share songs, share stories and share playtime.
“We were looking for a foundation to base an early literacy program on for teen parents,” Badenhop explains. “The Very Ready Reading Program laid it all out for them. It has been a wonderful tool.”
Badenhop and Mangas agreed on the importance of having students learn the program in a group setting. And they stress that the group is not just for teen mothers — teen fathers are also encouraged to attend. “We wanted these students to meet other teen parents, instead of just being with the librarian, so they don’t feel isolated or alone. In a class of one, students feel like they are the only one in that situation.”
Many of the students immediately connect with The Very Ready Reading Program, as they are already familiar with Eric Carle, whose artwork is featured throughout the materials. And although students are often timid when they first begin the program, notes Badenhop, this changes as their enthusiasm builds. “When seniors return to school after summer break, we see a big difference. We know they are doing the activities with their children at home because they are excited to be there.”
The Super 7, as the group came to be known to give the students anonymity, meets once a month over the students’ lunch hour. At the start of the hour, students read one of the recommended books together as a group, which helps them become more comfortable reading out loud. They then practice doing a song or rhyme as well as a simple literacy activity related to the theme. Mangas also had the idea of adding theme-related snacks, which they make together during the session. Students go home with a copy of the book for their child’s home library and parent handouts that feature the songs and rhymes, recommended book lists and activities they can do with their children to boost early literacy skills.
“The variety of the program is great, and we love the lists of recommended books,” says Mangas. “It makes it easy for students to access the books.”
Increased time spent reading and building early literacy skills with their children at home is not the only benefit of the Super 7 program. “Students themselves are reading more as well,” says Mangas.
Badenhop and Mangas have partnered with local libraries to encourage teen parents to use the public library. Students receive a folder, which they can use to take their book lists to the library. When librarians see the folder, they will know the patron is a teen parent looking for titles on the book list, without the teen having to explain. “It makes them much more comfortable,” explains Mangas.
To encourage all students to become familiar with using the public library, Badenhop holds a public library card sign-up day for all FCCC students. Twelve libraries from the surrounding area participate. The FCCC media center page also provides links to 10 public libraries in the area to make it easy for students to access information.
“Our hope is that after two years in our program, students will keep going to the public library,” says Badenhop.
One thing is clear: when it comes to early literacy, Badenhop and Mangas are truly making a difference in the lives of teen parents and their children. They hope to inspire other librarians to use The Very Ready Reading Program in a similar capacity. As Badenhop says, “It only takes one librarian to help a teen parent feel comfortable and have trust.”