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Norwalk Literacy Program Wins Wide Acclaim

Scattered among the parents who packed Brookside Elementary on March 6 to learn more was a full complement of Norwalk’s public school and community leaders: the superintendent, the union president, the school board chairman and the state Senate majority leader, to name a few.
They turned out on a snowy evening to join dozens of adults, most with young children in tow, for a few hours of games, activities, pizza and details about the third and latest installment of “Literacy 4 Parents 4 Their Children,” a series of Common Core-based modules designed to offer parents tools and resources that can help lay a solid early foundation for success in school and in life.
“I’m always in constant amazement at this support,” said Norwalk Federation of Teachers President and Literacy 4 Parents 4 Their Children creator Bruce LeVine Mellion, smiling as he surveyed the families who turned out. Many didn’t speak English but still wanted to join the event — underscoring the value of education and a determination to help their kids make the most of it with materials produced in both English and Spanish.
Click here for press coverage of the initiative’s launch last summer.
Explaining through his son Luis, Brookside parent Mario Reyes said that he was determined to attend the session because when it comes to opportunity in today’s world, “learning is important.”
“Building these skills very early is just a huge thing,” said Anna Veccia, who came to the session with her niece, a pre-Kindergarten student at the school. She says that her family is steeped in the belief that public education is the key to a better life for each successive generation.
From its conception and launch last June, the initiative has been a standard-bearer for cooperation between the union and the administration. Plans are to expand the offering to new schools and to grow the number of modules to 20. 
Taking the lead in developing and implementing program materials are NFT union members Francine Hakim and Pamela Serlin (pictured above), twin sisters who teach in Norwalk and currently serve as teacher leaders-in-residence for the State Department of Education (SDE). 
Click here for press coverage of Hakim and Serlin’s selection as teacher leaders-in-residence.
When it comes to an initiative like Literacy 4 Parents 4 Their Children — which provides suggested activities and educator-selected books and materials to support them — both teachers stress the need to keep polishing the approach to make it something every home will find useful and accessible.
“Parents need practical guides” to be strong partners in their children’s education, Serlin said, and the modules reflect that view. The latest module includes easy-to-tap methods like the “5 Finger Rule” to find a book that’s just right for a child: Pick a book, turn to a random page and have the child skim the text and hold up a finger for each unrecognized word. Two fingers or fewer might mean the book isn’t challenging enough, while five or more may suggest it’s too difficult. In early numeracy, the program advises parents that providing help can be as simple as placing a few crayons on a table and asking the child, “How many do you see?”
Click here for press coverage of the program’s previous module launch.
“The examples are ones we walk through with our own children,” Hakim said.
“We don’t just want to close the achievement gap, we want to prevent it from happening,” Mellion said. “The earlier we start with parents, the better off kids will be.”
The program makes a strong and unique contribution by helping parents play rich roles in their children’s education, said Norwalk Board of Education chair Michael Lyons. Children spend most of their lives outside of school, and “this fills gaps that we really can’t fill in a school building.”
In Norwalk, “diversity is one of our great strengths,” and the program reflects that, said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff. “I’m really proud of what Fran and Pam have done here. [Literacy 4 Parents 4 Their Children] is recognized as a great model across the state, and one worth replicating.”

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