Reading, It’s Life!

Read and live longer

i Mar 31st No Comments by

First published in the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday on Friday, November 18, 2016

SCIENTISTS ARE now realising that reading can make you healthier and increase your lifespan. In an Internet article posted on October 12, Honor Whiteman reported on a study published in the August Journal of Social Science & Medicine which states that reading books could increase your lifespan.

The study, led by researchers from Yale University’s School of Public Health, says that “adults who reported reading books for more than three and a half hours a week were 23 percent less likely to die over the next 12 years compared to people who didn’t read.” Researchers can’t quite figure out exactly why this is true, but they are searching for the answers. (On an interesting note, the report said that 75 percent of American adults have read at least one book in the past year).

Here’s what else researchers noted:

1. Reading reduces stress, which is responsible for about 60 percent of all illness and diseases. Stress raises the risk of stroke by 50 per cent and heart disease by 40 per cent. The study points out that stress bombards us from all directions every single day of our lives, and reading can be a major stress reducer. A study in 2009 conducted by the University of Sussex claimed that reading can reduce stress levels by as much as 68 per cent. One of the co-authors, Dr David Lewis, a neuropsychologist, says that just six minutes of reading anything – a book, a newspaper, a magazine – showed a measurable reduction of stress in people. There are other studies that back up these two studies.

2. Reading can slow cognitive decline: Readers, it seems, have sharper memories because reading is like exercise for your memory. A study conducted at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center with 294 adults who had an average age of 89 years proved this. For up to six years before their deaths, participants went through activities to test their memory. When the participants’ brains were analysed after their deaths, researchers found “…those who engaged in reading, writing, and other mentally stimulating activities in early and late life were less likely to show physical evidence of dementia…” Again, other studies support this finding.

3. Reading can improve sleep: Studies show that watching electronic devices before going to be bed can make it difficult to fall asleep, but a book before bedtime, the Mayo Clinic says, “can promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness.” So, for all those people who give me the excuse “reading puts me to sleep,” the answer is this: it’s supposed to put you to sleep.

4. Reading can enhance social skills: I know that most people think of readers as nerds, but studies published in the journal Science seem to support my claim that readers are actually more interesting people than non-readers because they have more information to talk about. You could say people who read have more experience in dealing with people because they “meet” a variety of people in books. Readers also score higher on tests that measure empathy. Keith Oatley, the author of a study at the University of Toronto, Canada, says “fiction can augment and help us understand our social experience (better).”

5. Reading may boost intelligence: This point needs little if any explanation. When you read, you become more knowledgeable. We have known about the importance of reading from many ongoing studies since the 1950s when research has measured the benefits of reading in terms of academic progress. Now, it is possible for science to me a s u r e how reading actually affects our health. Reading really is a lifesaver.


For more information:

Trimont College sponsors two ALTA students

i Mar 17th No Comments by


Last December when ALTA’s weekly column featured an article that called for the public’s assistance to sponsor an ALTA student, the young men of Trimont College responded.  On January 27th 2017 the boys of Trimont College together with volunteer parents of the school’s PTA hosted their first “ALTA Tuck Shop”.  One class from the junior school and another from the upper school collaborated and brought in their favourite snack items, which was donated to the PTA Tuck Shop.  The sales on that day yielded approximately twelve hundred dollars which to the boys was equivalent to sponsoring two ALTA students.

Whist the parents and teachers all recognize it is good to teach children corporate social responsibility in the Citizenship Class they attend, this practical exercise provides the boys with a valuable life lesson.  For the boys of the junior school in particular the notion that there are adults amongst us who cannot do what they do so easily every day in their classrooms, that is; to read and write, was an eye-opening realization for them. Thus when the opportunity came to purchase snacks that they understood was going towards helping an adult to read and write they were happy to part with their allowances.  PTA parents who volunteered their time at the Tuck Shop expressed their joy to see the boys come out of their comfort zone to spend extra even on their class mates.  The teachers too joined in by purchasing snacks for the boys in their classes, all for a worthy cause.

This initiative will continue on the last Friday of each month during the school year with the classes from both the junior and upper school alternating to host the monthly “ALTA Tuck Shop”.  With such a positive and encouraging response from the first ‘ALTA Tuck Shop’ some parents of the other classes have conveyed they are patiently awaiting their son’s class turn to host their ‘ALTA Tuck Shop’ to join their sons in baking treats to donate for such a worthy cause. For the young men of Trimont College this opportunity to help ALTA sponsor-a-student project is going beyond fundraising for a good cause as it has garnered excitement, engagement and enjoyment amongst the boys, parents and teachers of Trimont College.

ALTA is extremely grateful to the individuals, groups and companies who donate to our Sponsor a Student programme. Sponsoring a student helps ALTA as it covers the cost of training and equipping the teacher, providing materials for the students, advertising so students know about the classes, record keeping and enabling guidance from ALTA for the class teachers and administration.

You can opt to sponsor a specific student if you know anyone enrolled in the ALTA Programme, sponsor a student taking ALTA classes in your community or let ALTA pick a student for you. In October every year, you will receive a progress report highlighting your student’s achievements and recommendations for further advancement. Should your student be unable to continue ALTA classes, ALTA will assign another student to you.

If you’re interested in sponsoring an ALTA student,click here.



ALTA wins NGO Award for Good Governance

i Feb 21st No Comments by



In January 2017 the Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago presented ALTA with the NGO Award for Good Governance during its 2017 Gala Dinner. The event was a part of the Chamber’s annual two-day Trinidad and Tobago Energy Conference which is regarded as the premier Energy Conference in the Caribbean.


ALTA’s Resource Dev’t Manager with our “NGO Award for Good Governance 2017”

A total of six awards were presented by the Energy Chamber. The award presented to ALTA was for the NGO sector, while the others were open to companies in Trinidad and Tobago and looked at their work in the areas of Corporate Social Responsibility.

NGOs that were nominated or applied for the Good Governance award had to show an established record of continuity of work for a minimum of three years, as well as the promise of sustained activity in the future. The category looked specifically at ALTA’s ability to demonstrate good governance, our use of resources in an efficient, accountable and transparent manner and the measures we have in place to prevent corrupt practices and to promote accountability standards.

In order to be considered, ALTA had to complete an entry form detailing our background, past, current and future initiatives, our organizational structure, our Board of Directors’ composition and elections and our overall monitoring and evaluating strategies. After this we learned that we had been shortlisted and were required to make a presentation to a panel of judges. Our presentation looked at how we, as an NGO, practice accountability. Using the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute’s self assessment tool, we showed how ALTA ensures accountability basics, accountable governance, accountable programmes and accountable resource management.

ALTA prides itself on good governance. We have a clear organisational structure and an independent, elected Board of Directors whose members actively support and guide the Association’s growth. We are also legally incorporated with charitable status and up-to-date audited accounts. Every year we produce a work plan and our annual report is presented at our Annual General Meeting and published thereafter.

ALTA ensures accountable resource management through our volunteer management model that puts volunteers through a series of steps before we invest in training them. This ensures that about 90% of those trained complete their year of service, while several stay on with ALTA for many years. We also ensure that we practise responsible money management and do regular programme monitoring and evaluation.

As we turn 25 this year, we are proud to receive such a prestigious award from the Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago which speaks to our operations and strength as a local NGO.


What Yuh Know

i Feb 21st No Comments by

What Yuh Know- (2)

February 21, 2017

A new video series called “What Yuh Know” has been circulating on Facebook. The host asks people five questions which test their general knowledge and ability to spell. The goal of the video seems to be humour as it specially selects those who answer incorrectly and subjects them to ridicule through short video clips or memes inserted after their responses.

While “What Yuh Know” is not focussed solely on literacy, comments on the videos highlight the poor spelling and ridicule the interviewees. People have shared the video with no thought about how this affects those who have difficulty with reading and writing.

The Adult Literacy Tutors Association provides free reading and writing classes to adults (16+) and one of the videos produced by “What Yuh Know” featured an ALTA Level One student who was asked to spell a word. He was unable to spell it correctly and he was shamed. Since then he has not returned to his ALTA class or his workplace. We are trying to contact him to encourage him to return to ALTA.

The main reason people hesitate to come to ALTA is the stigma associated with not being able to read and write. Our students struggle with shame and fear before attending ALTA and it takes great courage to sign up for and attend the classes. Being shamed publicly has the potential to cause this student to never return to an ALTA class and to dissuade potential students from coming to ALTA. Shaming poor spellers increases stigma and encourages people to struggle silently rather than seek help.

The production and sharing of the video goes further to reinforce antiquated thinking about literacy. It enables the false idea that literacy and intelligence are one and the same.  This thinking is evident in our use of the term ‘illiterate’ for someone who isn’t smart rather than someone who is unable to read.

Over the past 25 years ALTA has been battling to change these perceptions to bring an understanding that reading and spelling are skills, and like other skills such as sports and music, some people have an aptitude for them and others don’t. Research shows that about 30% of any population will have difficulty with reading and writing.

Research also shows that the ability to read, write and spell does not equate to the ability to think.  Indeed there are thousands of people in Trinidad who struggle with spelling, reading and writing, but excel in many other areas from science and mathematics to fashion and design.

Some brains come wired for reading, spelling and writing. For some people these skills are easy while for others these are the most difficult skills they will ever have to learn. What’s important is understanding that this does not say anything about the person’s intelligence. Our effort and energy should be put into encouraging, educating and empowering people rather than into shaming them into silence.


Volunteer, Donate or Sponsor-a-student. Call 624-2582 or email for more info.  Keep up to date with ALTA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: ALTA TT



ALTA Coordinator Training 2016

i Oct 27th No Comments by

On Saturday October 22, 2016 ALTA hosted its annual training for new and returning ALTA Coordinators. Coordinators ensure that their respective ALTA classes around the country are run efficiently.

The day began with a welcome and the dissemination of Mental Health guideline booklets to all coordinators. This was a suggestion coming out of our Mental Health workshop earlier this year and detailed how coordinators and tutors should respond to any mental health concerns in the ALTA classroom.

Coordinators also had the opportunity to examine the newly revised Tutor Book 1B and make recommendations. This was followed by a session led by Paula on the Refresher trainings which were completed prior to the start of the academic year. Feedback provided from tutors who attended the refreshers was examined and recommendations made where necessary. ALTA’s Programme Manager Joanne Phillips also conducted a session on ALTA’s database which proved to be quite useful for the coordinators.

After lunch, coordinators examined the Reading Circle program and came up with ways to encourage students to join the program and to encourage an open line of communication between the ALTA Community Classes and the ALTA Reading Circles. This was followed by discussions on present and potential issues coordinators may have in their regions and a plan of action and regional agenda were created to be implemented going forward.

The day ended with a panel discussion moderated by Paula. On the panel were four longstanding and experienced ALTA Coordinators – Gloria Ferdinand, Jeanette Williams, Veronica Fongyit and Lystra Hazarie who shared advice on effectively carrying out ones role as an ALTA Coordinator. The panel was extremely informative and enjoyed by all. Some of the suggestions and comments coming out of the discussion were the importance of being a part of the team and treating everyone with respect.  Jeanette Williams also stressed that coordinators should see their role on two levels- as a coordinator for tutors and students – “both students and tutors must feel comfortable to approach you” she said. Jeanette also stressed on the importance of showing appreciation to our volunteer tutors who give so much of their time to ALTA and said that the interest of ALTA students must be a coordinator’s  priority. Encouraging tutors to identify and understand specific literacy issues which individual students have, was another area Jeanette identified as being important to ones role as coordinator.

 Bernadette Nathaniel one of our new coordinators shared her thoughts on the training session:

“As a new coordinator, the training afforded me the opportunity to learn from more experienced coordinators who provided valuable insight into what it takes to be effective and professional. The session with Joanne with regards to the database was also very useful as sometimes, as a tutor, you do not explore all the available resources. The Reading Circle exercise was informative as was the session with the amended Book 1B as this will help with structuring  classes in a more efficient way. Overall, the training will assist me in carrying out my role as a coordinator efficiently and effectively.”

The Adult Literacy Initiative of Grenada begins classes

i Oct 19th No Comments by

When Hurricane Ivan ravaged Grenada in 2004 it also dismantled ALTA’s programme there which began in 1999. In 2014, ALTA revisited the foundations which had been laid and trained tutors with the intention of restarting the programme in Grenada. Despite low student numbers and funding and venue challenges, classes began.

This year for the second time we were able to train tutors in Grenada via Skype linking up to our Belmont tutor training course. The five newly trained tutors were able to plan and execute student registration in Grenada and began classes for a second year in September. The tutors have launched an organisation called The Adult Literacy Initiative of Grenada (ALIG) which is supported by ALTA. Jill Patterson of ALIG shared some feedback on classes thus far:

ALIG is conducting both Level 1 and 2 classes this term, and we are already off to a great start. Our returning students were eager to resume classes, and have ecstatically shared their reading experiences over the break. They are excited about the new term and seem to have retained the skills learned in Level 1. Our new students were very open about sharing their challenges with reading and have indicated their various reasons for starting literacy classes. Although it has been a bold step for them, they have displayed sheer commitment and desire to completing tasks ahead. We have already established a strong rapport with the new students, and the entire class is building community spirit, as we conduct both classes in the same room. We look forward to what’s ahead and are grateful to be serving the Grenadian community in this way. Thanks to ALTA, we can make this a reality!

Keep up to date with ALIG on Facebook!


ALTA Reading Circle training 2016

i Oct 18th No Comments by

It seemed as though we just couldn’t close the registration list on Saturday 1 October, when 47 reading guides attended the 2016 Reading Circle training at our Belmont office.This was a record number. Guides poured in and enthusiasm was high at the session as they pledged to take the structured reading skills back to their reading rooms.

Reading Circle coordinator, Lilian Ramsaroop gave guides the administrative tour of their role and responsibilities to their students, as well as the relationship that must develop between guides and literacy tutors.

Especially for the new reading guides, ALTA Founder and CEO, Paula Lucie Smith’s explanation of the components of reading as taught in the literacy classroom and their direct links to the structure of the guided reading lessons was explicit. For all guides this made it clear that reading is complicated.

It’s a Funny Game, the factual and humorous book modelled by Lystra Hazarie, ALTA National Coordinator, introduced guides to several of the tools that comprise the guided reading concept that ALTA has been exploring for the past several years with Wallis Wyke.

In turn, guides got the opportunity to be teachers and students using ALTA library sets from different literary genres. Judging from their reactions, the newly trained guides were enthusiastic about having to demo a book. Many of them said that the training was much more interesting than they had imagined.

At the end of the day regional coordinators met with their guides to discuss the start-up challenges and strategies, and library sets were distributed to the 16 active reading circles across the country.

Are all these examinations necessary?

i Oct 18th No Comments by

Article first published in The Northerly titled ‘Testing, Testing 1,2,3 and…?’

Particularly for young children, examinations can be very stressful. So how many do we really need?

In one study in the U.S., an educational researcher set out to examine whether standardized testing for 7-8 year-olds was really necessary. In the state of Arizona, which has such mandatory tests, he asked the Arizona State Department of Instruction and district personnel why this was done, and was told that it was so they could learn which children needed help and which did not. He asked if they could get that information from teachers, but was told that such information would not be “objective,” that teacher ratings were “untrustworthy.”

He decided to personally test that theory by asking the teachers themselves. In a simple study, he asked teachers to rank the students in their classes in terms of how they would do on the state’s No Child Left Behind accountability test.

Of the 36 teachers that participated, reporting on nearly 1000 students, the researcher found that the teachers’ ranking of their students’ performance showed a strong positive correlation with the students’ rank on the state test. In other words, teachers are quite capable of providing the authorities with information about who needs help and who does not in about 10 minutes.

“In many districts, standardized exam results have become the single most important indicator of school performance. As a result, teachers and administrators feel enormous pressure to ensure that test scores consistently rise. Schools narrow and manipulate the curriculum to match the test, while teachers tend to cover only what is likely to be on the next exam. Methods of teaching conform to the multiple- choice format. Education increasingly resembles test prep”

Although these observations relate to the U.S., there is no doubt that a similar situation exists here in T&T. The Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) pressure now combined with the Nationalized Standardized Tests in Standards I and III, filters all the way down to preschool level. It is now common for three-year-olds to be given homework every day, in order to “prepare” them for primary school.

In a widely-read recent article by Dr. David Bratt, entitled “SEA is child abuse!”, he states that “Our curriculum is far too focussed on tests. Thers is no balance in the curriculum. It lacks arts, music and PE and areas of learning that are vital to physical and emotional health and balance in life.” He notes that for young children, play is far more important than rote learning: “Play develops creative thought and expression…Creative thought enhances problem solving. Creative thought, whether adult or child has its roots in play. When young children use their imaginations in play, they learn to be more creative and therefore perform better at school tasks.”

So will we soon see a system which prioritizes play over rote learning? Don’t count on it, so long as the education system in T&T continues to be designed by bureaucrats rather than educators.

This is my Story- ALTA’s 2016 campaign

i Oct 18th No Comments by

Snapshots of our 2016 anti-stigma and student recruitment campaign

Armed with the knowledge that stigma, fear and shame have stopped thousands of non readers around the country from coming to ALTA’s free community classes, we decided to execute a campaign aimed at reducing stigma associated with non readers in Trinidad and Tobago. The campaign entitled ‘My Story’ also doubled as a means of spreading awareness of our recently concluded Student Registration. The campaign was a success as we were able to spread awareness, tackle stigma and register hundreds of new students.

With help from Pepper Advertising and sponsorship from the Citizen Security Programme (CSP), our anti-stigma team planned and executed an integrated marketing communications campaign. Pepper’s expertise is transforming our ideas into media tools, the first of which was a radio ad campaign entitled ‘My Story’ which told stories highlighting the feelings of freedom, usefulness, pride, connectivity and achievement our students feel. In an effort to increase public empathy and understanding, it also examined why people may not have acquired reading and writing skills when they were younger. These ads were broadcast on local radio stations.

We also produced a television commercial with a twist which reached a wide audience when broadcast on TV6 and at Movie Towne and shared on our social media pages. We got many positive comments on our short videos of current and past students telling their stories and encouraging non-readers to come to ALTA.

We are extremely grateful to the many media houses which assisted us with spreading our campaign across the nation, as well as our ALTA Ambassadors who enthusiastically agreed to represent us at outreach events as well as on radio and television interviews.

Heartfelt thanks to:

Advantage Advertising

Bernadette Nathaniel

CL Communications

Garryn Ferdinand

Graphikos TT


Jeanette Williams

Kim Belmonte

Lennox Austin

M’aisha Thomas

Marios Pizzeria Ltd

Merle Carrington

Movie Towne Cinema


Pepper Advertising

Shiva Boys’ Hindu College

Trinity TV


WACK Radio 90.1

Warrenville Regional Complex



ALTA’s newest author

i Oct 18th No Comments by

Judith pictured on the left at the evening of tea and readings

ALTA’s Port of Spain West region has our very own author. ALTA Tutor and Ambassador, Judith Theodore, was recently one of the feature guests at the Paper Based Bookshop’s Evening of Tea and Readings. She was called upon to read an excerpt from her collection of short stories edited by Jeanne Mason and Ian. F. Ali.

An alumna of Wayne Brown’s writing workshops, Judith is also an artist, playwright and actress. She may be remembered for playing the role of Sandra Webb in the T.V. series Westwood Park which ran in 1997.

Judith has been a tutor in her St James community at the St Agnes venue since 2007.

Congratulations to Judith!