PALS program combats poor Alberni literacy stats

A new literacy program for Alberni families is helping combat poor early development statistics measured last year.

Richard Girling

A new literacy program for Alberni families is helping combat poor early development statistics measured last year.

Parents As Literacy Supporters (PALS) is a family literacy program that gives parents and caregivers various strategies to encourage learning in their pre-school and kindergarten-aged children.

Locally, PALS is delivered through a partnership between the Literacy Alberni Society and the Alberni Make Children First Network, and is underwritten by a local reading initiative.

The program is aimed at three- to six-year-old children, who are taught using a series of games and exercises. The initiative seeks to bolster children’s literacy, language and cognitive development before school starts. It also works with parents.

PALS workshops are delivered by two facilitators: one who teaches children and one who teaches adults. “PALS is unique because it doesn’t just work with children but it also works with parents, giving them skills that they can take home and continue on with their children,” Literacy Alberni executive director Richard Girling said.

A committee oversees the work of PALS in Alberni, and 10 organizations have partnered with the group to host PALS sessions, Girling said.

The essence of PALS was taught over two sessions to 60 people in Alberni who now serve as program facilitators. “We’re very fortunate that the community has embraced the PALS concept,” Girling said.

The program was brought to Alberni as the result of an ongoing study done each school year that showed poor literacy measures in pre-school age children, Girling said.

The study was coordinated by the Make Children First Network in Alberni, and carried out by researchers from the University of Victoria through the Human Early Learning Partnership, network spokesperson Tracy Smyth said.

Carried out each February in school districts across B.C., the test measures language, cognitive, social, emotional and communications development in children.

The results in Alberni were disconcerting. Thirty per cent of children were noted to be vulnerable in one or more developmental category. The result has been consistent over the past decade, Smyth said.

The reasons for the poor results are complex but have a common thread running through them. “Poverty is a big factor,” Smyth said.

According to data from Census Canada, 24.2 per cent of children under age 18 in Alberni live in poverty, compared to 19.6 per cent of all children in B.C.

The greatest area of concern was in language and cognitive development.

“We saw early literacy skills weren’t as strong as they could be and had a conversation with Literacy Alberni about it,” Smyth said. “They were a fit because they are involved with literacy and are involved with families.”

PALS is a means to an end but that end will take time, Girling said. “One year alone won’t change early development results,” he said.

“But continued consistent exposure year after year will positively impact those figures.”

There have been 20 PALS workshops delivered so far with 10 more scheduled, the next one in April.

For information call Literacy Alberni at 250-723-7323.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

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