Goodling Institute guiding William Penn Foundation literacy initiative

Jim Carlson
January 15, 2021

The William Penn Foundation is funding a family literacy initiative in Philadelphia and the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy, in Penn State’s College of Education, has had a key, collaborative role in the multi-program endeavor.

The Goodling Institute provides national leadership promoting the value of family literacy for adults and children, while also supporting program improvement through research and its application to practice and professional development.

C.Clymer

Carol Clymer

IMAGE: Penn State

Carol Clymer, co-director of the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy and the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy in the College of Education, cited the foundation’s mission as helping to improve access to high-quality education for children from low-income families, ensuring a sustainable environment, fostering creative communities that enhance civic life and advancing philanthropy in the Greater Philadelphia region.

The Goodling Institute was awarded a three-year grant worth nearly $500,000 to evaluate the project and provide professional development and technical assistance to the family literacy programs.

“We haven't analyzed all of the data yet and we won't until the entire study is over,” Clymer said. “The William Penn foundation is very interested in the findings; they're the ones who funded the programs in Philadelphia and they want to see if this does help families. This is the kind of research work that we do at the Goodling Institute.” 

Research has found that education opportunities of families are improved by integrating learning opportunities for early childhood, adult education and parent-child activities into one program. The William Penn Foundation (WPF) funded five family literacy programs in the Philadelphia area. One of them is Supporting Older Women’s Network. 

“Essentially, it's a community-based organization in Philadelphia that supports grandparents who have custody of their grandchildren. They're doing a family literacy program,” Clymer explained, with the goal of assisting grandparents to increase educational opportunities for their grandchildren.

She said grandparents caring for children need support because they haven’t been parents for a while, and having help to support their grandchildren’s education, particularly connecting to schools, has been a positive outcome. “Grandparents are also very interested in learning about parent education and about increasing their digital literacy skills to so that they can be more effective in that way,” Clymer said.

“What’s common to all five of these programs is to help the adults — the parents or the caregivers in the program — to raise their language or their reading skills or to work toward a High School Equivalency Certificate (GED) with English as a Second Language classes, adult basic education classes or GED classes.”

Another component, Clymer said, is parent education instruction. “Programs are really trying to help the parents, or caregivers, learn about the educational development of their children, so that they read to them more and so that they do things at home that are fun,” she said. “And in this environment where parents are at home with their [school age] children all the time and are having to help them with school just like teachers do, the family literacy program has been a real godsend for parents.”

Clymer added that adults in family literacy programs often have low socio-economic status or have not finished school themselves, or they are immigrant parents trying to learn English. “Helping them navigate school has been very helpful and that's something that is done in the Philadelphia programs funded by William Penn Foundation programs,” she said.

Clymer said the Indochinese American Council also helps deliver the family literacy program in immigrant neighborhoods across the city by working with Head Start programs through KenCrest, which provides educational services to children and families in Philadelphia.

KenCrest also is one of the grantees and works with other programs in the city to provide the adult education component for the initiative. “KenCrest is structuring the parent education and parent-child activities around the national Raising A Reader program,” Clymer said.

Center for Literacy is another family literacy program in the project that serves immigrant families with limited English proficiency, while also helping their young children succeed in school. The program helps to build confidence and knowledge about supporting their children’s learning.

The final family literacy program in the initiative is the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association Coalition. This program serves a variety of immigrant and refugee groups, according to Clymer, such as Burmese, Chinese and Nepali.

Clymer said that the Goodling Institute is doing an evaluation of the Family Literacy Initiative in Philadelphia. Information is gathered when the families enter the program, including how much interaction the parents have with their children, how much they are reading, singing or telling stories together, as well as the digital literacy in the home. Throughout the course of the project, additional information will be collected about children’s progress in school and weekly home activities. 

“With the schools we’re trying to get data about the children's progress in school from the early childhood program to see if they are increasing their reading, how they're doing in their elementary school classes and if they're progressing or if behavior is changing or if there's less absenteeism.”

Clymer said because of COVID-19 they haven't been able to collect some of that data from the schools this year. "We're hoping to pick it up again now as all the programs have resumed operation," she said.

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Last Updated January 15, 2021