Academic journal article School Community Journal

Implementing Family Literacy Programs for Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Populations: Key Elements to Consider

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Implementing Family Literacy Programs for Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Populations: Key Elements to Consider

Article excerpt


Family literacy programs reflect a recent trend in educational reform that has proven to be a successful educational model for all members of the family unit. Based on the literature that links family involvement to student achievement, these initiatives focus on empowering parents of school children. These programs have been particularly beneficial for linguistically and culturally diverse families, since they provide opportunities for adult family members to acquire English language/literacy skills while gaining access to the sociocultural knowledge required for them to assume greater roles of involvement in their children's education. This article examines specific key elements considered essential in the effective implementation of family literacy programs. Insights from the authors' experiences with implementing family English literacy programs for over 20 years in the South Florida area include the role of needs assessments, recruitment and retention, curricular design and curricular materials, personnel selection and staff development, and interagency collaboration. Given the current emphasis on these types of programs, it is imperative that issues of implementation be addressed in order to maximize the success of these initiatives.

Key words: family literacy, parent involvement, program design, adult ESL, intergenerational programs


Family literacy programs reflect a recent trend in education that has gained momentum based on the growing research that shows that children achieve higher academic gains and have better behavior and attitudes toward school if their parents or caregivers are involved in their educational process (Henderson & Mapp, 2003; King & McMaster, 2001; Morrow, 1995; National Center for Family Literacy, 1997). This has become a cornerstone of educational reform efforts across educational levels that seek to address the needs of the whole family in order to make an impact on the academic endeavors of school-age children. It can be said that "all family-centered learning initiatives recognize the strong link between family members and children and thus include some form of intergenerational exercise or activity to reinforce this bond" (Garcia & Hasson, 1996a, p. 14).

The research in the growing field of family involvement and family literacy points to the success of these educational initiatives in several ways. For example, attendance on the part of adult family members tends to be higher and attrition lower in family-centered learning programs than regular adult education programs. The Families Learning at School & Home (FLASH) program implemented in the South Florida area during a twelve-year span reported a retention rate of over 60% for its 1,600 participants as opposed to a less than 40% completion rate in other adult ESL programs statewide (Garcia & Hasson, 1996b). Some family literacy programs report attendance rates as high as 74% (Paratore, 1993, as cited in Mulhern, Rodriguez-Brown, & Shanahan, 1994) in contrast with attrition rates of 50% in adult education programs (Mulhern et al.).

Specific outcomes in terms of academic gains and advancement on the part of all family members can be attributed to family-centered education initiatives as well. Achievement in terms of English language proficiency, school participation, and literacy practices on the part of the adults in family-oriented programs has been found to be greater than that of their counterparts in general adult education programs (Garcia & Hasson, 1996b; Garcia, Hasson, & Panizo, 2002; Mulhern et al., 1994). More importantly, though, is the academic achievement of children who participated in the programs with their parents/family members. On specific measures of reading and mathematics, these children have shown higher gains than children whose parents did not participate in such initiatives (Delgado-Gaitan, 1992; Garcia & Hasson, 1996b; Garcia et al. …

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