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.
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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!
March 2018 was a big month for ALTA! It saw the realisation of three successful anniversary events after months of meetings and coordination. Our East Sports Day, North Readings Under the Trees and South/Central Fun, Food and Frolic Day were all well supported, ran smoothly and were enjoyed by all who attended.
ALTA Tutors and Guides in the East and Mid- East Regions kicked off the 25 anniversary celebrations with a Sports Day at the Lopinot Historical Complex ,in the scenic Lopinot Valley on Saturday March 10, 2018. Students and tutors from venues throughout the two regions participated in the fun filled events.
The St George’s College venue team emerged the overall winners having won the most events. Two of their students were awarded prizes for the best male and female participant and their tutors were triumphant in events as well. Special thanks goes to the Reading Circle guides from the Holy Saviour venue for officiating the proceedings, Sue Ann Sui Chock for the preparation and execution of the events, our master of ceremony, Bettina Dyer who did a marvelous job without a microphone, Veronica Fongyt for the opening prayer, Lystra Hazarie for her presentation on ALTA’s history and Carolyn Walker -Hepburn for managing the event. From securing the use of the facilities to relaying information about the sports to each venue, Carolyn assisted greatly!
One week later the North/North West region of ALTA tutors welcomed authors such as Michael Anthony, Lisa Allen Agostini and Judy Raymond,joined by newly published writers such as Kevin Jared Hosein, Breanne McIvor and Judith Theodore to an afternoon of Readings Under the Trees. Authors read under select trees at the Gardens and were joined by ALTA tutors and students who read both original and published pieces of work.
Members of the public were invited to come listen to the readings and contribute during the open mike sessions. Children were also welcomed as there was a special area for them with readings from children authors Jeunanne Alkins and Al Ramsawack and literacy games. It was a great afternoon and ALTA has decided to make it into an annual event.
Our final ALTA 25 event was hosted by our South/Central Tutors at Guaracara Park in Pointe a Pierre on Saturday March 24, 2018. It was a day of sharing and caring with ALTA students, present and past tutors and their friends and families. There were at least 500 people there. The day started with a look at ALTA’s history for the past 25 years and then some tutors and students sharing what ALTA meant to them. This was followed by food sampling as all the venues brought different local delicacies to share; from fish broth to roti, kurma to ‘phonic’ cupcakes – there was a lot of food! Then it was time for the games which catered to both children and adults. Tutors took traditional games and gave them a literacy twist. There was bingo, cricket, ‘make the word’ competitions. ALTA’s South/Central tutors are looking forward to more events like this in the future!
Have a read of ALTA’s annual report which was presented to the membership at the annual general meeting in October 2017. As ALTA celebrates its 25th anniversary and looks toward the next twenty five years, energy has been focussed on these three areas:
In order to spread awareness of the programme and ensure that the messages being spread are deemed as important, ALTA felt it important that the organisation remain relevant in the minds of the public. An important step in remaining relevant is establishing and maintaining a strong brand presence. All the advice received said that ALTA’s logo needed to be updated. The black and white logo served well in the largely print medium of the first 25 years, but doesn’t work as well on the screens of phones, tablets and computers. After much discussion and varied design ideas, it was Keya Marketing who came up with a logo. The logo is meant to reflect youth, vitality, relationship building, transformation and social movement.
Additionally, given economic constraints, it was important that ALTA find cost effective ways to advertise tutor recruitment, student registration and promote awareness of ALTA. This led to a stronger focus on social media networks. Putting content on social media has little impact unless you have the network to read and spread this. Building this network has been the big success of the last year. Over the past year, ALTA’s Communication Manager has created content which has caught people’s interest and gained followers in the crowded social media world.
ALTA has almost tripled the number of followers on Facebook going from 2500 followers last year to 6300 followers currently. This means that information about ALTA is more likely to be seen by persons in T&T and the diaspora without ALTA paying for them to see it. ALTA has also used Twitter to reach out to partners and other NGOs to advertise programmes, donation and volunteering opportunities and create linkages to maximize reach. In the past year ALTA has gained 84 new followers. Instagram has also been used to share current happenings at ALTA – in the past year the following on Instagram has also increased.
ALTA’s strategic networking online has not wavered offline networking. A strong relationship with Movie Towne has resulted in the student recruitment ad being played in their cinemas for more than a year and Caribbean Cinemas 8 supported the recently concluded Student Registration campaign by playing advertisements in their cinemas gratis in August 2017. ALTA is greatly appreciative of the role both the Citizen Security Programme and Pepper Advertising played in the creation and dissemination of communication material. The new relationship with Digicel Foundation will also enable the production and sharing of vital communication material with larger more diverse audiences in the coming months.
Additionally, this year ALTA continued with the aim of year-round student outreach. Regional Coordinators took up the challenge to conduct at least two instances of outreach in their regions every month. ALTA Ambassadors along with Regional Coordinators conducted numerous instances of Outreach at health centres, schools, workplaces, community meetings, youth groups and churches. If you know of any community event which ALTA can attend and spread awareness of the programme, please do not hesitate to contact any ALTA office.
Every year ALTA conducts two campaigns; student recruitment and tutor recruitment. In order to stay relevant and minimalize cost, this year ALTA took the decision to focus communication messages on radio and social media and didn’t have print ads. This resulted in successful and cost effective Tutor Recruitment and Student Registration campaigns in the past year. The Student Registration campaign themed “Live Your Best Life with ALTA” used radio scripts from 2016 (funded by CSP) as well as ALTA Ambassador John Bascombe, an ALTA Graduate who is currently enrolled in law school.
Preliminary figures for this academic year indicate that 1,451 students are attending classes, 641 of whom are new students. This figure exceeds the 1,179 as of this period last year and 1,142 of 2015. ALTA continues to accept students into classes with available space, via phone or walk-ins. This shows that as much as ALTA continues to battle stigma, the number of students making the decision to come to the community classes is still growing.
The continued support of the fifty ALTA classes around the country comes from ALTA’s class sponsors for 2016/17 – Republic Bank, United Way of Trinidad and Tobago, The National Gas Company of T&T, Price Philanthropies Foundation, Phoenix Park Gas Processors, First Caribbean International Bank, Kapok and Mr. Hamilton Padmore.
Unfortunately this year ALTA’s Cascade class was discontinued because of the repeated small student numbers. In 1994, the St Ann’s/Cascade Motivational Programme became the second venue to host an ALTA class. ALTA thanks Noreen De La Rosa, board member of this centre, for not only providing this venue for 20 plus years but for also teaching and coordinating this class.
Aside from community classes where students focus on their literacy, ALTA also provides a Spelling Programme for students who wish to focus on this aspect of their literacy growth. This programme continues its steady growth for yet another year with the Port of Spain venue having the largest number with well over 40 students. The demand was so great that past tutors had to be called back to active duty.
Last year, ALTA was able to successfully restart the programme in Grenada. Fortunately classes continue there with students completing their first academic year in early December followed by the recruitment of new students by the end of the year. Their new academic year will thus begin in January 2018.
With over fifty classes around the country, it is important to have a clear organizational structure. Each region in Trinidad is managed by ALTA Regional Coordinators who all report to ALTA’s CEO. This year ALTA has taken the decision to implement a National Coordinator who will manage all ALTA programmes around the country. This ensures that the CEO can focus on internal matters and ALTA Online. Lystra Hazarie has been appointed ALTA’s new National Coordinator. Lystra will be immersed in all aspects of programme development and management in the coming years.
For the first time this year, ALTA decided to advertise the NALIS Youth Lit Programme for youth 10-15 via social media. There was an overwhelming response to the registration with 229 students assessed. Unfortunately, given resource constraints, many of the students could not be accommodated. The response however shows that the ALTA brand is strong and that there is an overwhelming unmet need for ALTA among those in the 10-15 age group.
In order to keep tutors and the ALTA programme up to date, every year ALTA conducts refresher training for continuing tutors, as well as a Tutor meeting with current tutors to update them on all things ALTA. This year ALTA welcomed guest speaker Cathryn Kelshall of the Dyslexia Association who did a presentation on Dyslexia in the ALTA classroom. As a mentor to ALTA from the early years, Cathyrn matched research and teaching approaches to ALTA’s tutor and student experience. Tutors got a better of understanding of their dyslexic students and why particular activities are necessary in the ALTA classroom. Based on Cathryn’s advice, a new spelling element was introduced at this year’s refresher tutor training and implemented in ALTA classrooms for this academic year.
For the past 25 years, ALTA has committed to training at most 100 tutors annually. This year, 95 participants started the training course and 86 successfully completed the sessions. These tutors are currently completing their first term of teaching at classes around the country.
As ALTA looks toward the future, one of the things that became apparent was that the organisation needed a strategic plan. In April 2017, ALTA was fortunate to be guided by professionals from Deloitte who helped the management team develop a strategic plan. Ravi Rampersad, Marshall Ogle and Salaina Jagroop from Deloitte conducted two gratis workshops with ALTA which led to a now implemented plan which will guide ALTA’s work for the next three years.
Republic Bank-sponsored ALTA Online is ALTA’s signature project, the most innovative product since the development of the ALTA programme itself, in that it has the potential to bring reading instruction not just to Trinidad but the whole Caribbean and beyond – indeed anywhere reached by the internet.
Mid-year design and staff changes meant that ALTA adjusted the timeline, so the goal for October 2017 was to produce the first three lessons in Book 1 for Level 1. ALTA is proud to have achieved this major milestone in this difficult project. Testing of lessons 1-3 by the extended tutor team is complete, so the team is now set to move on to external testing. ALTA Online has been a moving target, however the challenges have served as the building blocks of a product that will better meet the needs of present and future students.
ALTA looks forward to launching ALTA Online in the near future!