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Sharing Successes in the Keystone State: Inspiring Literacy Initiatives Across Pennsylvania

By Aileen Hower
 | Jul 11, 2019

The Keystone State Literacy Association (KSLA), the Pennsylvania affiliate of
the International Literacy Association (ILA), is celebrating 50 years of literacy
leadership across our state this year. At our fall statewide leadership meeting, we
took the time to share about the wide variety of chapter projects and initiatives
currently being implemented. There was a great deal of positive energy around
widespread sharing of ideas.

After a gallery walk, chapters were able to elaborate on some of the most
innovative ideas. Chapter leaders enjoyed hearing about similar and new ideas
for how to serve our members and communities. It was an awe-inspiring time of
collaboration and connection.

A few commonalities emerged from the ideas shared. Most ideas fell into the
following categories: professional learning, advocacy, and engaging with families
and communities.

Professional learning

  • Throughout the state, KSLA chapters hold "Teachers as Readers" events to
    talk about and promote the reading of current children's, middle grade, and
    young adult books. Many councils invite the coordinators of the Keystone to
    Reading Book Awards to present on the current books that students can read
    and vote for. The Keystone to Reading Book Awards is a yearly recognition
    of a current picture, poetry, or chapter book, awarded annually at our state
    conference. The awards are chosen entirely by Pennsylvania students.
  • Across the state, especially in chapters such as Central Western, online and
    in-person professional book clubs are being held with members, other local
    teachers, and teachers from other parts of the state.
  • At times, such as with the Brandywine Valley Forge and Delaware Valley
    chapters, miniconferences are held to engage with teachers in specific areas
    and at times outside of our annual conference. This year, topics include
    "Building Community With Social Justice Poetry," "How to Talk About Race
    in Your Classroom," and "Raising Social Awareness Through Conversations
    and Mentor Texts."

  • A few chapters, such as Franklin County, share literacy information and
    establish partnerships with local doctors' offices, as well as provide books to
    children during wellness checks.
  • Franklin County was also recognized by Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary of education for their work in collaborating with the local intermediate unit to service students who attend a migrant education summer program in their area.
  • We continue to host department of education representatives at our annual conference as well as invite a “standing” member, who focuses her work on language arts, to attend our biannual leadership/statewide meetings.
  • Various chapter leaders attend department of education meetings to share the latest research about literacy with various divisions and statewide initiatives.
Engaging with families and communities

  • Our Lancaster-Lebanon chapter gives their Celebrate Literacy Award to local literacy initiatives such as "Police, Read to Me."
  • Susquehanna Valley holds “Read to Me Please” summer reading programs for preschool students at a local playground.
  • Many of our chapters participate in laundromat library projects. Books are collected throughout the year at chapter events and baskets are placed in local laundromats so children have something to read while their family is there. In some chapters, books are also donated to women’s shelters or in places where children wait while their parents attend a court hearing.
  • A number of chapters, such as Schuylkill, have established Story Walks through local parks.
  • Across the state, chapters are partnering with other community organizations such as Kiwanis, Salvation Army, the United Way, and local libraries.
The ideas shared at our meeting were as diverse and unique as each of our local chapters. Most recently, chapters have been holding casual get-togethers for networking and have even been offering painting, massage, and relaxing coloring events to boost teacher morale.

Those chapters that serve regions that are large in square footage work to host regional or online events. Chapters that represent more diverse populations or urban centers stay committed to serving those communities, ensuring children receive books and families and caregivers learn helpful ideas for promoting literacy in the home. Especially in a time when teachers find attending large conferences difficult, but still desire to keep their literacy teaching skills sharp, all chapters serve their members by hosting authors and professional development speakers, and studying the latest in literacy research.

We are so proud of all of our members and thankful for our local leaders for their tireless love of and commitment to promoting literacy throughout a lifetime.

Aileen Hower, an ILA member since 2008, is president of the Keystone State Literacy Association.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

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