Saturday, February 09, 2008

Our Motheread program at the Jail

I have been co-teaching Motheread with Frederica Torres at the Pima County Adult Detention Center for nearly 6 months now and I love this program the more I do it.

A typical class starts with a get-to-know-you period. We encourage the women (and men, we do Fatheread classes too at the Jail) to come to all 8 sessions, but often there are new faces as the prisoner's situations are pretty fluid. So we start by asking everyone to tell the group their name and their kids' names. Most of the women are moms, but some are also aunts, sisters and grandmothers. Sometimes this is an emotional time as the women remember the children they are separated from. Some of the women have college degrees, but most never finished high school.

Then we pass the week's storybook out. Even though we're working with adults, Motheread uses children's picture books -- and it really works well. Then we read together. Everyone who wants to read aloud takes turn reading a page, until we're done. When we're through, we discuss our impressions of the story and its illustrations. Often the women will notice things I didn't observe, even after careful reading. Did you notice that the troll under the bridge in Paul Galdone's Three Billy Goats Gruff was chained to the bridge? The Troll didn't choose to be there, under the bridge threatening passersby, he was chained there.

The books are chosen carefully to be ones that work on many different levels and have messages of family, community, compassion and decision-making. Some of the titles we've used are The Runaway Bunny, Cherries and Cherry Pits, A Chair for My Mother, Grandfather's Journey, In My Family, The Tale of Rabbit and Coyote, and Abiyoyo.

The middle part of the class focuses on how the women can use the book with their children. We share storytelling tips and information about early literacy and child brain development, with an emphasis on the six skills of early literacy.

The last part of the class is a writing project of some sort. For example, the week we read from Carmen Lomas Garza's book In My Family, we wrote about a food memory. When we read Sandra Cisneros' Hairs/Pellitos, everyone drew a self-portrait and wrote a descriptive paragraph about their hair. When I get back to the library I type their stories up, decorate them, and print them in color.

After the class is finished the women have a short crafts time. Typically we will bring die-cuts and colored paper, and the women will make stationary for their kids, cards, or write letters. We are prepared with large envelopes, and the book we read in class, the die-cut crafts and the writing assignment from the week before that I have decorated. These envelopes are checked for content and mailed to their children.

The last class is very special. We bring a digital recorder and record the women reading aloud to their children, and we send that on a CD in the last packet.

For the women (and the fathers in Fatheread), the classes are an escape of sorts and a chance for positive contact with their children. For Frederica, Ella, Dawn and I, we hope we've weakened the cycle of illiteracy and crime just a little bit. It feels very good.

There is more information on Motheread at the official website. Our program is funded by the Pima County Public Library and the Pima County Child Abuse Prevention Council.

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