ORT Reading Programme is a catalyst for change

ORT Reading Programme is a catalyst for change

ORT SA CAPE has embarked on a Reading Programme (RP) in disadvantaged schools in the rural farm areas of the Cape Winelands. Nine schools are currently participating, including Pniel, P.C. Pietersen, Groendal, Lynedoch, Weber Gedenk, Bruckner de Villiers, J.J Rhode, Pieter Langeveldt, and Vlottenburg.

Educators at each of these schools chose fifteen Grade 6 learners and fifteen Grade 3 learners to participate in sessions of after- school ‘Constructive Enrichment’ on a weekly basis. The older learners are coached by RP facilitators to become reading ‘coaches’ to the younger learners. Pairs of ‘reading buddies’ are formed; and facilitators work with the same 15 pairs each week to create a reading culture. Research has suggested that positive relationships between children of different ages can have ripple effects in their communities. Older learners can thrive on the responsibility entrusted to them; while younger learners can thrive from the undivided attention of older peers, who they regard as role models.

Character is built as a by-product, as facilitators coach children in reading and mentoring, using primary tools of affirmation and positive reinforcement. A ‘safe space’ is created with an atmosphere conducive to creating a love of reading and to the building of a ‘book culture’ — so critical for the development of society. Educators have expressed appreciation of the literacy intervention. One committed school principal, along with several other educators, attends every after-school session to learn about creative ‘out of the box’ ways to stimulate cognitive thinking and to bridge the literacy gap. Meanwhile, learners have generally soaked up the RP. Name badges are worn with pride. One little boy, a truant labelled as with ‘cannot read’ (in the educator’s words), is now a regular attendee of the RP; and has started to read Jack and the Beanstalk with stumbling enthusiasm.

Stories for society
“Story plays an essential part in the development of a child’s talent for life”, Dawn Garisch, creative method facilitator and medical doctor suggests in The Eloquent Body. In this book, Garisch highlights the value of the storyteller or reader, an adult or sibling who can personally “interact with the child around images or words”. A preliminary meeting has been held with MGD (Matie Community Service) of Stellenbosch University to assess the feasibility for volunteers of their Community Interaction Flagship Project to work alongside RP facilitators in 2013. This move toward possible collaboration with MGD is welcomed by ORT SA CAPE.

Moreover, the potential for student social workers’ involvement would bring the dimension toward caring for the ‘whole’ child, where conditions in the home are sub-standard, and where the most basic needs of children may not be met. “It takes a village to raise a child”, the old adage goes. However, this truism holds poignant promise for particular schools whose learners have been tainted by the negative socio-economic effects of unemployment and poverty in these picturesque rural farm communities. Poverty, ‘the beast’ with more than one face, shows itself in stark juxtaposition to the unique beauty of the surroundings, and the children themselves. Yet research suggests that ‘imperfection’ and creativity are in fact ‘essential partners’, and so in the conundrum lies the catalyst for change. In response to the potential move toward broader community engagement with these issues, Dr Lydia Abel, director of ORT SA CAPE has said “I hope that together we can all make a difference!”