Greater Toledo Community Foundation Hosts Panel Discussion

By Angie Hayes
The Truth Reporter

Greater Toledo Community Foundation hosted a panel discussion on Thursday, May 18, at the Main Branch Library to discuss the importance of literacy, to support the non-profit organizations in the community that focus on improving literacy and to acknowledge and celebrate the 50 years that the organization has been active in the community.

The four panelists were: Diana Bush, Read For Literacy; Shawna Woody, Hope Toledo; Tracy Perryman, PhD, Center of Hope Family Services; Tiffany Adamski, TutorSmart Toledo. Patrick Johnston, GTCF vice president, moderated the discussion.

“The mission of the Greater Toledo Community Foundation is building a better community and helps to identify the needs of the community. We’ve been building for 50 years; best way is collaboration! You may lead now, or you may lead in the future. A history book has been created, 1929-2008 history facts and we are providing a book to each one of you and hope you enjoy reading and sharing the book and facts.” said Keith Burwell, GTCF president, in his opening remarks.

“The Greater Toledo Event is to see how all of you fit with the foundation and celebrate the success! Let’s talk about and think about what is happening and ways to help the community. We are meeting today with great non-profit organizations who are doing great things in the community. Looking forward to the next 50 years that we will do. Let’s uplift the non-profits to the point of everything,” said Patrick Johnston.

“How have you interfaced with children whose learning was impacted by the pandemic?” Patrick Johnston asked Adamski.

Shawna Woody, Tiffany Adamski, Diana Bush, Tracee Perryman, PhD

“I think the answer to that is pivot. And pivot again,” replied Adamski. “Our organization was like most after school tutoring programs, we were very school based and in person right after school. As the pandemic shut everything down, our entire world stopped! And it did for our kids so we had to get creative, just like everybody up here! In order to continue to serve our kids, we had to get super creative and what we were able to do was pivot to an online program. We actually worked with our partners at the Toledo Public Schools to create google classrooms on their side of the servers so that when the kids opened the classroom we can come together.  There’s an icon for Tutor Smart, so the kids could still get tutoring even when we had to stay 6 feet apart even when the schools were closed. It was hard, I can’t tell you that a ton of academic progress happened right away. But we were there for our kids and I think that really was the most important part of that time. We had some great churches that came forward and you know were good partners with us so that we could run programming for kids in person. Because some of them just needed a friendly face so we were able to do that. But that really sparked some innovation within Tutor Smart and I think all of our programs have grown in new and interesting ways that have allowed us to connect with the community on a broader level. And Tutor Smart was able to partner with the libraries now so that we can serve students, across the city in their neighborhoods.”

“Diana, you are next….question for you. In Lucas County, tens of thousands of adults read at or below a basic level.  Meaning they are unable to read the newspaper, fill out job applications or help their children. Can you talk a little bit more about adult literacy and the impacts this has on a person’s family, job prospects and their social mobility?” Patrick Johnston.

“Really if you cannot read in our society today, your ability to get a good paying job is severely limited,” said Bush. “And when we think about the economics, it impacts where you live. It impacts what kind of car you can afford; it impacts where your children go to school. Because where you live is going to be where your children are going to go to school. It impacts the chances that they are going to, in some cases, get a great education. Because they may be stuck in schools that don’t have the same resources as other schools; don’t have the same community engagement as other schools.

“The chances that adults who don’t read are gonna go to a family engagement are pretty limited. Because they are not comfortable going to a place where someone might ask them to read something or where someone might ask them to fill out a form. So important to know for adults with literacy issues, is the amount of things they have to fill out or the things they will have to read; and the types of engagements they can do with their children without being able to read because those are all important aspects.”

“So, I wouldn’t be a Read For Literacy volunteer coordinator if I didn’t say ‘Check out our facebook page, we got a ton of volunteer opportunities and are a lot of fun. We do a lot of great work and as it was mentioned earlier, Tiffany just told me one the things we do is recognize students that the most approved readers in their classrooms; so not the students who constantly get accolades but the kids who struggle. The kids who have had interventions. One of the students that both Tiff and I work with, was actually awarded a ‘care award’.

“For most of our existence, we work on an adult literacy program, and you saw one of our special stars, Stefan on the screen earlier. We have since expanded into a program called ‘Creating Young Readers’ where we work with preschoolers, kindergartners, first graders in both Toledo and Maumee schools. And about seven years ago now, Toledo Community Foundation graciously funded a strategic partnership alliance grant. So, we do two book festivals, one happened a little over a week ago, right here in this room! We also presented 650 awards to students in Toledo Public Schools. We are going to turn around and do it again at the Maumee Branch Library.”

”A chance for happiness and success later in life. In other words, how does the career model work, Shawna?” asked Johnston.

”That is everything and it is important and it is about exposure,” replied Woody.  “So, we heard a little bit about reading and literacy. It’s not just, and I have to give a nod to our Early Childhood director, Alyssa. When I asked her about it a little bit, she said it’s reading the words on the page. It’s understanding the sound, it’s understanding the language, it’s having conversations with your little ones. It’s getting the kids into preschool so they can work. This is important! They grow; they thrive; being in preschool and family engagement.

Hope Toledo has a family engagement specialist and a Professional Development Support Specialist, who do the work! That helps people learn what to do! It’s important that the community “shows up” to teach the right ways to support their children! Early literacy is important, because that is when most of the development happens: behavioral, social, emotional and cognitive. All of that happens early on, that’s why it’s so important that we do early literacy! We know that from age two to six, our children’s vocabulary increases from 200 words to 10,000 words! So, it’s important that we work with that and celebrate that; and we know how important that is! When/if they enter kindergarten and lack the skills necessary to learn, they lag behind! But….if they have been exposed to the preschool education, they are able to enter into kindergarten and ready to learn! More than likely to graduate from high school on time and then more likely to enter into post-secondary or trade school, and/or the work force! We talk about the work force and what happens: from the Cradle….to Career!! You have to add community to that! Because it takes community from the beginning to work to make sure we are supporting early literacy from the cradle. And post-secondary and work force development. All tied together, all important and all starts early. Give the kids the strong start they deserve. Celebrate from Cradle to Career!

“The mission of Hope Toledo is to support and ensure higher quality and education…that is preschool, post-secondary, or training school. And that is to make sure we create generational  economic change for the betterment of our community and families. And so, a lot of ways we do that, we’ll talk about that a little bit later on the preschool side and the post-secondary side. But what we believe is that every person should have access to high quality affordable education….  And so, we support preschool providers, started with ten now we have twenty. And we also have three cohorts of post-secondary school scholars: parents, and the youngsters who just recently graduated from high school in 2020, 2021 and 2022. “

“Tracee, I’d like you to tell us about what other factors are at play when we look at literacy rates. For example, things like food and security, income levels, poverty, access to transportation. Can you dig into that a little bit for us? asked Johnston of Perryman.

“I was really happy I was assigned this question because, one of the secrets to success and improving literacy outcomes and academic outcomes is understanding and remembering, that all of us are shaped by the social conditions at which we’re born, we live, and we work,” said Perryman. “Our primary focus is closing opportunity gaps. And that is by reducing barriers to access and increasing opportunities to drive. We started tutoring in our fellowship home in the back of our small church, in 1999. And we were doing a Bible Study for the adults. And it was a dream to grow to this level; basically, these were the strengths we knew we had.

“We had all been pretty well educated and we thought that those skills and talents would be a benefit to the neighborhood and community where there was certainly a lack of resources. So here we are!  The movement started in 1997. So, 26 years later we are serving after school students in three school districts: Toledo Public, Sylvania and Washington Local, nine schools. We are an innovation and excellence award winner. And we won that award one of the years we went into a school.

“And for our students that come from under resourced areas, one of the problems they must contend with daily is being expected to do more with less! They are expected to score at proficient, whether or not their school provided resources. They struggle to understand and one secret to success is not losing heart! We must aspire…when they have barriers and I tell this to parents too, in our parenting classes.”