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Local programs help parents read, teach children literacy skills

by Layne Stracener | February 23, 2020 at 4:17 a.m. | Updated February 23, 2020 at 4:27 p.m.
Amy Luo was 19 when she moved to the U.S. from Fuzhou, China. Here, she stands in a Holts Summit restaurant where she works.

When Holts Summit resident Amy Luo moved to the United States as a 19-year-old, her English literacy was at a second- or third-grade level.

She was afraid to talk to people, because it was stressful and embarrassing.

Later, as a co-owner of New China, she often messed up customers' orders because she didn't understand what they were ordering. She was upset she couldn't talk to or understand people, so she decided to take English Second Language classes and receive tutoring at the ABLE Learning Center.

Now, she has formed relationships with customers and has conversations with them about their lives. They all know her by name.

After attending classes and tutoring for eight years, her English literacy is now at a sixth-grade level at least, she said. She's not afraid to speak to people anymore, and she can finally express her bubbly, outgoing personality.

"It's just like family," she said. "You talk to your family, use your family language, and I can open to talk to people. It's very helpful."

The ABLE Learning Center offers free, private tutoring and learning materials for people 16 and older who are not enrolled in school. The tutors, all trained volunteers, typically spend about one or two hours a week with their students. Luo receives tutoring for the English Second Language classes at the Jefferson City School District. She has also received literacy tutoring at ABLE to prepare for the high school equivalency test, which she plans to take soon.

Receiving this education has allowed Luo to help her son with his homework and read to him in English, she said. Being able to improve her son's literacy skills has allowed him to not be afraid to speak to people like Luo once was.

"It's very, very helpful to me to see more, learn more, and then I can teach my son," she said.

ABLE Director Felicia Poettgen said parents who receive reading and writing education often are better able to read to their children, help them with their schoolwork and encourage them to read, so the skills are passed down through generations.

When English is not somebody's second language, taking English Second Language classes and seeing a tutor also allows them to communicate better with their child's teachers.

"If they aren't reading well, then they don't have confidence with their child, and the literacy really does help overall," she said. "It just kind of carries over to their children."

Central Missouri Community Action Head Start, an education program for infants, toddlers and preschool children from low-income families, takes a holistic approach to educating a child.

Family success coaches work with families to establish the family's needs and accomplish goals for the parents and child. The coaches can provide resources to the parents to receive literacy education for themselves and to work with their child on their literacy skills.

Improving the parent's literacy skills has allowed some to receive higher paying jobs, child development administrator Melody Vieth said. It gives them the skills to fill out job applications, create resumes and accomplish the tasks needed for various jobs.

The program offers books in 17 different languages and access to an app that includes tutorials on learning activities for parents to do with their child. For example, one tutorial includes teaching your child the names of foods while you're at the grocery store.

Jefferson City resident Jessica Green, who has two children in Head Start, said the program has given her children a strong vocabulary that has allowed them to express themselves verbally. Her 2-year-old son can form full, clear sentences and have conversations with adults, she said.

Green said it's important to teach your children literacy skills often.

"The more that you read and the more that you're teaching literacy and the more that you're going over those things, the more that you can get them to understand and comprehend what they're reading," she said. "And you need reading and writing and language for anything that you do."

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