Editor’s Note: Jodie Williams is the Literacy Coordinator for the Manatee County Library System and a participant in the Harwood Public Innovators Lab underwritten by The Patterson Foundation for library leadership in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
I am the first person to hold the position of Literacy Coordinator in the Manatee County Library System. This position is graciously funded by The Library Foundation, Inc. and allows me the privilege of collaborating with others to tackle the youth literacy statistics in our community. I visit schools, community centers, and community events where I provide children and adults with tools to increase the children’s literacy skills.
On one such occasion, I was visiting Oneco Elementary School. The weary, hopeful, and nervous looks were evident on the parents’ faces the moment I entered the room. Far from being a diverse group, this was a meeting just for parents of students who receive English as a Second Language (ESL) services. They happened to all be Latino parents. My face — along with those of the ESL teacher, the Graduation Enhancement Technician (GET) teacher, and a public youth librarian — showed determination. The meeting began with the ESL teacher explaining how parents can use inexpensive items, like a deck of playing cards, to practice skills taught at school. Next, the GET teacher spoke of the importance of attending school as regularly as possible. Finally, the youth librarian and I were able to show how the public library is the perfect partner for families and schools. We began our part of the meeting by asking how many of the families have public library cards. One of thirty-one parents raised her hand — a staggering, yet unsurprising, answer. We continued by explaining some of the amazing resources we have at the public library. Everyone knows we have books for children to read, but did you know we have audio books for children who can’t read? Also, the youth librarian at each branch provides children’s story times and special summer programming like Star Wars Reads. There are other great children’s programs throughout the year that integrate art, music, culture, writing, magic, and science with reading. In addition to all of this, we have begun adding safe, educational, and fun electronics to our children’s collections. Launchpads, Bookpacks, and Views by the Findaway Company provide children ages three to ten with a way to learn and practice literacy skills. And the best part? All of this is free!
The meeting was so successful that everyone’s face showed excitement. The teachers were excited to share their messages with a critical group of parents. The parents were excited to meet the teachers and to realize all of the materials and programs for their children at the public library. The youth librarian and I were excited that the remaining 30 parents received library cards and know what is available to them. Most importantly was the excitement that comes from building a community of people who have a single cause. In this case, the children’s success is the cause that has led to more collaboration between this school, the families, and the library.