Making Connections: A Women's Literacy Program in Durham

Dawn Lasci

You know you are doing something right when your students beat you into the classroom! Our Thursday night literacy classes at the Oshawa YWCA are eagerly anticipated by the women who arrive early, and greet us with a pot of fresh coffee and completed homework, proudly displayed. We do a variety of classroom activities including basic letter and sound recognition, writing exercises, reading aloud, reading comprehension, and a number of literacy applications available on iPad.

These are our mature students, women who are permanent onsite residents at the YWCA. Some attend our literacy class because their education did not extend past elementary school, while others are working to improve their English language skills.

The intention behind the program was to create an initiative that allowed teachers in our ETFO local to connect and be more involved in the community where we live and work. It was also intended to allow women ETFO members to reach out to other women. Our president, Gerard O’Neill, and second vice-president, Sirkku Meldrum, first approached two local organizations, the YWCA in Oshawa and the Women’s Multicultural Resource Counselling Centre of Durham, who met the idea of developing a literacy program with great enthusiasm, immediately recognizing the unmet need in the community. The program responded to a gap in services for women. Through the YWCA, organizers looked at helping to meet the educational needs of women in the shelter and residence. For immigrant women who were clients of the Women’s Multicultural Resource Counselling Centre, they looked at offering ESL classes.

I became involved when the local reached out to women members, asking for volunteers who were interested in teaching an evening class once a week. It was heartwarming to see the number of other teachers who were willing to assist women in our community, giving up hours of their personal and family time, after having spent the day in their own classrooms. We felt motivated to help other women who, due to life circumstances, did not have the educational opportunities many of us take for granted.

Our literacy program is currently in its third year and both classes are held in the evening, once a week. We follow the school calendar so we observe the same breaks, and continue until mid-June. The Oshawa YWCA class has been growing steadily and is the larger of the two, mainly because with the participants living onsite, it lacks the accessibility restraints many of the women from the WMRCC experience.

As this class offers basic literacy skills, it sometimes involves going back to the recognition of letters and sounds and early reading and comprehension skills. Along with current educational resources and technology, our teachers bring their own tried and true resources and expertise. The women taking part


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