Showing Up Over and Over Again: Some Updates on Our Community Literacy Projects
Layne Gordon, Assistant Director
If you’ve been keeping up with our blog for some time, then you may have already heard a little bit about our community partnerships with Family Scholar House and the Western branch of the Louisville Free Public Library. We are now in our third year of exploring ways to fulfill our commitment to community literacy in the broader Louisville area, and these projects have recently unfolded in really interesting ways.
Last semester, one of our most exciting endeavors was partnering with students in Dr. Andrea Olinger’s undergraduate capstone course on “Literacy Tutoring Across Contexts and Cultures.” Upper level English majors in this course tutored for four weeks at our community partner sites, and their coursework allowed them to reflect on their experiences and discuss both foundational theories and pragmatic strategies related to community literacy projects. In turn, this partnership allowed us to significantly expand our presence at both partner sites. With the help of these students and five other more long term volunteers, we had a total of over 70 tutoring sessions at Family Scholar House and the Western branch in the fall.
Now that we have settled into the new year and new semester, we have some exciting updates to share about our community literacy projects and some things we’re looking forward to this spring.
1. Our undergraduate internship program.
This semester, we have expanded our relationship with the undergraduate English major program to create an internship opportunity in conjunction with our community partner sites. We are currently working with four interns who have regular, weekly tutoring hours at one of the two community locations, and–particularly at the Western branch–are helping us generate programming and outreach ideas. One benefit of this program is that these upper level students are able to explore their research interests in more concrete ways. For example, two of our interns have previously researched translingual and multilingual literacy tutoring, and another is interested in beginning a reading/debate group for elementary and middle school students at the Western branch. We are so excited about the range of interests these tutors bring to this experience, and we can’t wait to see how their involvement shapes the future of our community partnerships.
2. Working with adult and young writers at the Western branch.
When we first began our relationship with the Western branch, we focused primarily on K-12 literacy tutoring. During the summer of 2017, for example, we offered a series of comic writing workshops for young writers. However, at the end of last fall, Natalie Woods (the Western branch manager) and I decided to expand our literacy tutoring to include adult writers as well. Since we knew that the involvement of existing tutors and the addition of our new interns would allow us to offer even more weekly hours, we felt that the time was right to expand our tutoring for all ages. So far this semester, our tutors have already worked with young writers on school assignments, creative writing projects, and applications to local middle school magnet programs. We are looking forward to seeing how our tutors take advantage of this opportunity to work with a broader range of writers and how this change grows our involvement with the local community.
3. Continuing to learn from our community partners about how we can contribute to their goals.
From the beginning of this project, we have been committed to prioritizing the needs and goals of our community partner sites above all else. Drawing on the tenets of participatory action research, we have begun by “showing up” and listening to our partners, then offering our knowledge and institutional resources for the purposes that they deem fit. While the same can be said for community literacy work in general, this approach in particular requires a great deal of flexibility and creative thinking. It isn’t enough to show up once and think we have everything figured out. We must continually listen and look for new ways to show up for the communities we are working with. Through this process, we have already learned so much about what we can bring to writers in the community and how we can create sustainable relationships with these organizations and the populations they serve. As we develop new ways to adapt to the needs of the broader community, we are so excited about the opportunities, challenges, and successes that await us as we continue to look for ways to fulfill our commitment to showing up over and over again.