This year has certainly
made its mark on history and as we get ready to close the curtains on 2020, we
would like to take this time to introduce the men and women who work tirelessly
behind the scenes at team ALTA. We’ve made some big strides this year, introduced
some new programmes, and had a very successful student registration campaign,
so we saw it fitting to introduce you to the team!
Kim Herbert – Communications Officer
As Communications Officer, I have the pleasure of developing
digital and traditional marketing communications strategies at ALTA which are
focused on anti-stigma and public awareness. I get to design, produce and
most importantly share written and audio-visual content for this 28-year-old
brand. Wow! How cool is that?
Although I have been with ALTA for less than a year, I feel
so much at home. It may sound a bit cliché, but ALTA is like a family. I
have been welcomed by an amazing team of men and women who have made my job of
communicating during a pandemic feel like a walk in the park. I get to
experience first-hand the level of dedication and commitment that goes into
ensuring that our students are able to continue working towards their literacy
Reading has always been a part of my life. As a child, I
was always fascinated with books and the library was like a second home for me
‒ mainly because my mother was not able to purchase the books, so I
borrowed. As a parent, I get to share this fascination with my daughters
and as a member of team ALTA, I get to share some amazing literacy stories.
M’aisha Thomas – Resource Development Manager
My interest in literacy stems from early memories of my
personal struggle to master the skill. I can recall the frustration I felt when
I couldn’t grasp the fundamentals at first. Somehow I knew at age 6 just how
important reading would be.
I was fortunate – books were celebrated in our household. I
was read to by my parents and older sister and saw them immersed in books all
the time, so it was never seen as a chore. We were told that we could discover
anything we wanted to know if we just looked it up. I grew up before home
internet was commonplace, so “Have you checked the encyclopedia?” was the
Once I unlocked the secret world of words, things took off
for me but I never forgot how daunting it was at first. I took every
opportunity to incorporate literacy research into my own education; I even
delved into the topic as an O’Level Social Studies student. That sparked
interest in pursuing Literature and Linguistics as an Undergrad.
With my own background, and as ALTA’s Resource Development
Manager with six years of experience in the classroom as a volunteer tutor and
two as a Class Coordinator, I have a unique vantage point. I can empathize with
our students, and I have a grasp of what it takes to help them attain their
My role also allows me to act as a liaison between ALTA and
our sponsors. This gives me the opportunity to explore what makes ALTA impactful.
Quite simply, it is our people and their commitment to lifelong learning and
I am ALTA because I want to contribute to passing on the joy
of reading. I get to work toward that goal every day.
Join us next week for more features!
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a tutor,
joining a class, or becoming a sponsor, call 624-2582 or email
Keep up to date with Alta on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram:
After more than 5 years of focused development work, which has proven both challenging and rewarding, ALTA Online is in the hands of users.
The NGC sponsored ALTA Online Pilot is rolling out in 2 phases (May – July and October into 2021). Phase 1 saw 40 students completing Level 1 Book 1. This will give ALTA the essential feedback from students on what works and what doesn’t to guide the development team.
That ALTA was able to implement Phase 1 in the ever-changing world of the pandemic is a true achievement and testimony to the dedication of our staff, tutors and students. Phase 1 had to be completely restructured from an in-person format (planned to be in schools and community centres with ALTA tutor mentors on-site to guide students) to a remote method – putting ALTA Online to a radical first test!
Trained ALTA mentors connected with their pilot students via Zoom and WhatsApp to address queries and gather feedback. With the closure of all places of learning until the end of the year, Phase 2 will likewise start as home based with mentor support.
After an initial ALTA Online Readiness Survey in April, which determined whether current ALTA students had the computer and internet access needed to participate in the pilot, ALTA tutor mentors were trained in guiding pilot participants through the login and use of the programme.
Apart from 34 existing ALTA students, the pilot included 18 residents in partner children’s homes which had the required computers with internet and the supervision needed when children are on the net. Among the children homes that partnered with ALTA are Credo, Rainbow Rescue, We Say Y.E.S and Sophia House. Student Support Services linked four of their students to ALTA Online and the National Centre for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) in San Fernando engaged enthusiastically in the project with 12 members participating. In addition, we have been able to include students from our Caribbean neighbour Nevis! A total of 70 students participated in Phase1, ranging in age from 9 to 65.
Level 2 Youth lit student, Gernessa Eccles, who had been participating in the pilot was vocal in expressing her gratitude. “The VCCV rule was fun to learn and reading and sounding out letters was very helpful. Thank you ALTA for the opportunity!” Phase 1 officially closed off on 31 July, culminating with mentors administering a Survey Monkey survey to gather specific and comprehensive feedback from each pilot participant. The Phase 1 findings were used to inform the set up and management of Phase 2.
Look out for the public launch of ALTA Online in 2021!
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a tutor, joining a class, or becoming a sponsor, call 624-2582 or email email@example.com.
Keep up to date with Alta on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: Alta TT
For adult literacy students, grasping the
rudiments of reading and writing is as important as gaining the confidence to put
them into practice. This is why we encourage and celebrate students’
willingness to display their new-found skill whenever possible.
As an international organisation that gives
women a voice and promotes literacy as a tool that fosters empowerment and
equity, We Learn provides just such an opportunity. For the past two years, Alta has submitted
student writing to We Learn for consideration to be published in their Women’s
Perspective Magazine. In our first year of participating all 11 of Alta’s student
submissions were published.
Alta’s commitment to excellence in literacy
instruction is matched only by the dedication of our students who see improving
their reading and writing as a priority and put in the time and effort to
achieve this goal. Last week we looked at Alycia’s
journey to literacy. This week’s piece is written by Alta Level 3 student C.J.M.
Both women’s words express just how transformative the partnership between
tutors and students can be.
I Am in My Journey
This girl, who was born in Diego Martin, grew
up in the country and never sat Common Entrance. She was labelled a loser
because she could not read and came from a very poor family, with nine siblings
and no way out in sight. Today she can say she scored. That lucky girl is me.
I was encouraged by Ms. Thomas to go back to
school and get an education so I could help myself. Also, my son said to me one
day, “Mummy I think you should go to Alta”. It is a decision I never regretted.
I stated in level two. At first I was scared, but when Mr. Tim said to us that
we are not beginners, I laughed to myself, “Girl you could read and spell a
I went to class every day because I wanted to
improve myself. My goal was to get to level three so I listened, I read, I
spelled and I practised and worked hard. Mr. Tim told us about taking part in Alta’s
Reading Under the Trees so we all had to write our life stories.
I took part but was not able to read my story
because of time constraints. I was so disappointed that I did not get to read
my story. However, I read a piece from my journal and I felt so nervous but
humble and proud of my first milestone.
I was promoted to Level 3. I was on track to
doing one thing that was holding me back. I set another goal to be a world
class reader. Then one day in class Mr. Tim announced that my story was
published in a magazine called the Women’s Perspective and will be published in
the Guardian newspapers.
I felt so accomplished and so empowered. I had
little butterflies in my stomach, I was proud of the other two ladies whose
writings were also published. Mr. Tim was proud because in his class he had
five of us getting published.
The little girl from the country is now an
author and proud of her success.
I am inspired to keep on writing. I am
confident and working on my second story and hopefully many more. I thank Alta
for giving me the courage to start, the discipline to stay, the encouragement
to continue and the appreciation that Mr. Tim and Mr. Raphael have shown to me
on my journey.
My journey though, has just begun. I am
hopeful that one day I will go on to do my college degree in English. Now I
feel like nothing can stop me. I can be one who wants to write books, or even
be one of the editors of a magazine or newspaper.
Alta has put life back into that little girl
who was once called a loser. Now I can say to them, “Success is mine and you
can’t take that from me”.
ALTA is greatly honoured to receive the NGC Above and Beyond award, and to follow in the footsteps of previous awardees, Olympian Hasely Crawford and Pat Bishop, musician and visual artist. Not unlike these exemplars, ALTA’s students, though challenged by literacy, often have an aptitude for sports and the arts.
Selecting ALTA for this award shows that NGC is thinking above and beyond the norm, switching from honouring an individual of world renown to a whole group of persons who are largely unnoticed – since those with low literacy are on the margins of society, of employment, of life. This award brings them centre stage in the best possible way.
As this year’s recipient, ALTA undertakes three major projects under the theme “Stand Tall,” which captures the energy and resilience of our adult learners as they confront the obstacles between them and their education goals.
Stand Tall – I am ALTA aims to redefine literacy as a skill just like any other, thereby reducing, if not eliminating, the stigma surrounding low literacy. Stand Tall also offers two new initiatives to improve reading and spelling.
First, the ALTA Online pilot: ALTA Online is a web-based version of the ALTA literacy programme. After five long years, faithfully supported by Republic Bank Power to Make a Difference, ALTA Online is ready for users, and NGC is enabling us to pilot ALTA Online with 220 users in two phases. The UWI Campus Office of Planning and Institutional Research is partnering with ALTA to develop evaluation tools and collate and analyse findings. This systematic testing is critical to the success of ALTA Online. The ALTA Online pilot takes us one step closer to independent literacy learning.
The second Stand Tall project aids spelling instruction in schools by donating ALTA Spelling Dictionaries to low-performing primary and secondary schools; and by producing the ALTA Phonics Chart. The ALTA phonics chart will act as a quick reference visual aid in classrooms and homes. This is a phonics chart with a difference as it addresses the spelling needs of speakers of Caribbean English.
The third project, Stand Tall – I am ALTA, shows us the people – not just the issue; their sometimes overwhelming challenges; their courage; their step by step transformation so they do more than just keep standing – they stand tall. In the words of ALTA student Alycia Bernard, “I will succeed because I have all the support I need. In order for things to change, we must change.”
The Stand Tall – Above and Beyond award is a wondrous gift to see ALTA through these uncertain times. Thank you NGC for this award to our students, our volunteer tutors, our nation. Together, we stand tall!
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a tutor, joining a class, or becoming a sponsor, call 624-2582 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep up to date with ALTA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: ALTA
ADDRESS TO UWI GRADUATES, CONFERRAL OF HONORARY DOCTORATE
Good morning. It is a great privilege to join the ranks of the graduates this morning and I extend my sincere thanks to the University of the West Indies for the conferral of this honour. I also extend my congratulations to the graduates. For each of you, today celebrates the achievement of a goal, but a goal often set by others or by expectations. From now on, you choose.
When in 1990 I chose to work as a volunteer adult literacy tutor, it was in line with what I’d done before, but I found myself on my own, without curriculum or books, with adult learners looking to me to teach them to read, and other volunteers expecting me to teach them to teach.
I faced a new choice.
Almost three decades later, what do I see as the key to successfully forging a new path?
On his visit to Trinidad some years ago, author Richard Gerver made a statement that has stayed with me. He said that to change an underperforming school you need “a vision powerful enough to engage people”. Should you decide to make a new path, this is what you need: a vision powerful enough to engage people.
For a powerful vision and purpose that they believe in, people will work hard, some without pay. 2018 marks ALTA’s 25th year, and for our new tutors to understand ALTA’s heritage and culture, tutors who had over many years given more than classroom teaching spoke about their ALTA experience. I was surprised that tutor after tutor said the same thing: they got a phone call from Paula to ask them to take on more than they had signed on for, and they said ‘yes’.
What made them say ‘yes’ though they didn’t intend to? What made them say ‘yes’ again and again?
They said ‘yes’ because they believed in ALTA and in its higher purpose, trusting that what they were asked to do was important and would bring positive change; knowing that they wouldn’t be on their own, that we would be doing this together.
ALTA has been able to engage high calibre people as tutors, staff, board members and partners. ALTA’s vision is powerful enough to engage people.
So the doctorate may be in my name, but it’s shared by some 3,000 tutors and 15,000 students. If our students didn’t take that scary step into an ALTA class, there would be no ALTA.
Although you are at the top of the education ladder and ALTA students on the first rung, an ALTA certificate is much like the certificate you receive today.
What will you choose? What vision will engage you? Or will you create a vision to engage others?
As a child of independence, when I left university I was fully engaged by the powerful vision of nation building. So were many of my friends. I taught at Senior Comp, friends worked in the hospital, state enterprises and ministries. Sooner or later, we all left and for the same reason – decisions governed by votes at the next election. Politics invaded to erode the integrity and quality of the nation’s institutions and made our efforts futile.
Here’s one example from education. The abolition of the Common Entrance exam was announced by Basdeo Panday on a political platform in Princes Town. He declared that he would put an end to the 11+ trauma. Politics was the driver of universal secondary education.
In early 2,000 before the first SEA exam, the Chief Education Officer asked to meet to discuss what ALTA could offer as those in education were well aware that several thousand students who were not literate would be entering secondary school. ALTA submitted a proposal and mobilised. No word came.
In the 18 years since, ALTA has built a national adult literacy programme and, with NALIS, Youth Lit for under 16s. As ALTA stuck firmly to our course, a stream of initiatives in education came and went, as each was about the big launch – not implementation. Politics again.
18 years later students continue to enter secondary schools barely able to read, and exit five years later with the same low literacy, but now with an entrenched feeling of being outside of society. Anger pervades our secondary schools; anger wrought by extreme frustration. Why else would teens place their ‘school feeding’ lunch on the overhead fans to interrupt the secondary education so prized by their parents? What did the group of teens who set fire to their school have in common? Not one of them could read. Without provision for those with no aptitude for literacy, universal secondary education is destroying trust in our schools, and eroding belief in the value of education. Our schools no longer engage people.
Why didn’t we ‘say no’ when a politician dictated education policy?
In the early 1970s, Finland had an underperforming education system. Then they took education out of politics. They embarked on a long-term policy to develop a professional body of educators, and then turned over the decisions to the teachers. Finland is rated among the highest in the world in innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity.
More than 40 years ago, the Finns recognised that there is no place for politics in education. Isn’t it time we took politics out of education? And out of other areas? Since independence, successive governments have taught us that we can neither trust their vision nor their purpose. Our politicians fail to engage people.
So why do we look to government to lead and bring positive change? It is time to be independent – to look to ourselves to effect positive change. It is time to build alternatives that are independent of government. ALTA is one such alternative – so it can be done.
I leave you with a quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estés which captures the ALTA experience:
“What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.”
Be among that small, determined group who will not give up.
Earlier this year, Leslie Ann Murray reached out to ALTA indicating her desire to volunteer with the organisation on a short term basis. Leslie Ann is a writer and educator based in Paris who will publish her first book of stories soon! In the month of June, Leslie-Ann visited six Reading Circles at five venues: NALIS (morning + afternoon), St George’s College Barataria, Arima Boys’ R.C. School, ALTA Office Belmont and Holy Saviour Curepe. The feedback was excellent; both tutors and students enjoyed her work immensely. Before leaving, Leslie Ann left a note to all Reading Circle Guides and student:
“From the bottom of my heart of hearts, thank your for a wonderful month at ALTA Reading Circle. Your feedback, support, and questions about my upcoming short story collection were intelligent and engaging. I left each Reading Circle session feeling empowered and encouraged.” – Leslie Ann
Make your way to Harris Promenade. ALTA’s Office is on the 3rd Floor of the St Paul’s Anglican Church
Over the past twenty five years Alta has had great impact on people around the country who have gone on to gain full time employment, CSEC passes and self-confidence through the programme. Alta has also had significant impact on families. By working with parents who are non-readers, the programme has often also taught their children to read, write and spell. The column today tells the story of how the programme impacts families. Kernisha Skeete daughter of past ALTA student Jackie Skeete shares her story.
She couldn’t read but for the sake of my education she went back to school. Some say I taught my momma to read but the reality is she taught me. She allowed me to spend my evenings at the library, so late they had to ask me to leave. My mother went out of her way to ensure I went to school whether we had money or not. My mother taught me the importance of education as she attended Alta classes at various locations in Arima. I grew up attending [Alta] field trips and gaining new aunties and uncles as she progressed through each level, sometimes doing one level multiple times.
As I observed my mother persevere to one day write post primary examinations after completing Alta’s Level 3, I gained an appreciation for education. She continuously reminded me of the importance of acquiring an education and explained to me how it would impact my life. As a child, I listened, not fully grasping the significance of her words. As she practiced her syllables, vocabulary and spellings, I practiced too. In retrospect, I can say ALTA taught us both. Her cards were my cards, her books were my leisure reading. I love to read and seeing my mother progress from a struggling student to someone who was able to stand before a crowd and read fluently marveled me. Seeing her progress from spelling words completely different to their actual spelling to minor misspellings touched my life in a way I cannot translate into words.
The tutors of Alta played a significant role in my mother’s learning as they inspired her with each session: they encouraged, applauded and corrected her as necessary. When an external issue impacted her learning, they sat and listened patiently to ensure she was able to learn without hindrance.
I would not be where I am had my mother not seen the importance of education. I may not have performed as well as I did in SEA had it not been for our attendance at Alta classes. Alta, like a number of persons and institutions, has contributed to our lives in ways we simply cannot pinpoint because we have gained in almost every area of our lives from what many may consider as just a class.
My mummy, My hero, My role model.
Kernisha is currently a fourth year medical student. Her mom passed away some years ago. She was a market vendor during the day and an Alta student on evenings. Unfortunately she didn’t live to see her daughter enroll in medical school.
Volunteer, Donate or Sponsor-a-student. Call 621-5708 or email email@example.com for more info. Keep up to date with ALTA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: ALTA
The Republic Bank Limited sponsored ALTA Reading Circles are an informal space for ALTA students to practice their reading with assistance from Reading Circle Guides. Reading Circles are meant to support students who need extra assistance with reading skills as ALTA community classes focus on overall literacy rather than solely reading skills.
In March, the Marketing Department at Mario’s Pizzeria contacted ALTA with the hope of supporting our literacy programme. After just one meeting, Readings and Pizzas was born! After a wildly successful Readings Under the Trees event in celebration of our 25th anniversary – #ALTA25 – we decided to bring local authors into select Reading Circles to share their work over Mario’s sponsored pizzas with ALTA tutors and student. The event was a great success at every ALTA Reading Circle Mario’s visited.
ALTA would like to thank Mario’s Pizzeria Limited for reaching out and partnering with us to make the Reading Circle an even more exciting experience for our students. They always appreciate listening to work from local authors. Having the opportunity to chat with them over yummy pizza was a plus! We also thank authors, Rafael Sookram and Lyndon Baptiste for volunteering their time to ALTA!