A retired teacher in Hay River has launched an initiative to help people facing severe reading difficulties.
The teacher is Chris Aitken and the initiative is called Critical Literacy Support, which opened Jan. 2 in an office at the Godwin Mall. Aitken noted he saw the origins of literacy problems as a teacher for 34 years, including 17 years in Hay River – students who just didn’t come to school starting as early as Grade 3. “They have major family issues and getting them to school was not easy for the family,” he said. “And they have large, large gaps in their learning.” Aitken called the situation tragic for adults who can’t read sufficiently to function in today’s society. “Now they’re struggling,” he said. “They can’t get a driver’s licence. They can’t read that manual. They need to be helped.” Aitken, who is the co-ordinator of Critical Literacy Support, lists many other examples of what a person with poor literacy skills might have trouble with, including using a debit card, reading an ATM machine, reading a menu, reading a manual, applying for a passport, completing government forms and documents, and creating a resume. Critical Literacy Support, which Aitken has been thinking about for five years, has been launched with financial support from the Community Literacy Development Fund of the Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE). Aitken noted that, in his application to the fund, he targeted the initiative at young adults aged 16 to 30, although he noted he will also help older people. In general, they will have low literacy rates and a lower level of general knowledge due to a lack of education and/or learning disabilities, along with challenging family issues while growing up that interfered with their schooling.
As a result, they may be either unemployed or have difficulty remaining in a job. Aitken works with people to improve their literacy skills, while at the same time having them read about life skills, such as planning ahead to get to work on time, keeping children safe, good mental health, smoke alarm safety, volunteering, and being a role model for children. In the short time that Critical Literacy Support has been open, it has helped six or seven people. All of them have some reading skills, Aitken noted. “You want to develop it.”
Rita Mueller, the assistant deputy minister with ECE, noted the Community Literacy Development Fund (CLDF) provides financial assistance to community organizations to develop and deliver local programs that will increase literacy skills and raise awareness of the importance of literacy. “The Critical Literacy Support initiative is a good example of how the CLDF can be used to provide NWT residents with literacy support,” she said in a written comment to The Hub. “ECE is pleased to be able to provide funding to this and other literacy projects. Aitken said he hopes Critical Literacy Support will become permanent, noting he has funding until March 31 and will apply for more to continue the initiative.