The Lena Sommer's Youth & Teen Literacy Center
Nehemiah’s teenage boys’ inability to read at peer levels is a significant predicator of school suspensions, behavioral problems and dropout rates. Their homes and environment are often chaotic and disorganized. In early elementary years, when the basics of reading are being taught and honed, their families have often moved countless times. The lack of consistent attendance and parental involvement factor is a significant in falling behind in reading. That deficiency has many consequences including the possibility of being involved in the juvenile court system. The inability to read is central to a lack of employment opportunities and is strongly tied to incarceration. Nationally, 75% of incarcerated males are illiterate!
Hopelessness and anger are expressed by our youth because jobs and educational placement for people unable to read are few and far between. With this in mind we decided to tackle this head on.
Nehemiah started a pilot program, the Literacy Training Program, staffed by a reading specialist with over 20 years of experience in 2013. Each boy was tested upon arrival, most tested at the 3rd-6th grade reading level, many years behind their chronological age and grade. Individual literacy educational plans were developed by our staff for each child, based on the skills they were lacking.
Improvement was significant during this pilot program. Nehemiah’s board of directors voted to formalize the program in January, 2014, and sought out funding to support a Literacy Training Center. We hired a part-time Literacy Specialist and established a critical collaboration in the community with Cardinal Stritch University, who has a long history of literacy instruction.
In September, 2016, through another collaboration, we moved our expanded program (Lena Sommers Children & Youth Literacy Center) to St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care at 24th and North Avenue. This partnership allows us to reach a much wider audience of children, ages 7-18, coming directly from the community in addition to our Nehemiah boys. Also, we are in partnership with St. Marcus School and Pathways High School, providing assessment and instruction on-site at their facilities. We now have 6 reading specialists working with kids from the community in addition to our Nehemiah boys. We anticipate working with 110-120 children, primarily from zip codes 53205-53206 in academic years 2019-2020.
Literacy services for these children include a complete and intense assessment and analysis of the results followed by one-on-one instruction. The tutors teach to the missing skills that have held these kids back. We anticipate the need for literacy training to be ongoing. The ability to read changes a child’s future. Investment of time and talent through our assessments and instruction is a very small price to pay for a child to fully participate in life and all of the options it offers.
The Lena Sommers Youth & Teen literacy program is currently funded through private donations and grants. We continue to work to obtain agreements with Milwaukee County and the State of Wisconsin, and other entities to procure “purchase of service” contracts.
We are always taking new students. If you, or someone you know is seeking reading assessment or instruction for a child, please call Nehemiah at (414) 933-8002 for further information.
LaTasha Hodge is our director of the Lena Sommers Youth and Teen literacy Center. She has an impressive history of working with youth, especially teens, in the area of literacy training. Currently, she is working on her Ph.D. in Language and Literacy at Cardinal Stritch University, having earned previous degrees in Elementary Education, Curriculum and Instruction, and Reading. Additionally, her 21 years of experience has been primarily focused on teens, perfectly matching the needs at the Nehemiah Project.
Her wealth of experience is vital to addressing the literacy needs of our young men, most of whom are significantly behind their grade level. LaTasha has shown patience and a deep level of understanding of the unique needs of our residents.
A number of students were determined to be proficient readers after their initial testing with LaTasha. For those young men, LaTasha has established a book club so they can still be a part of the literacy program. She leads the young men in discussions about selected books, prodding them with questions and opening their minds to the world of reading.
We are indeed fortunate that LaTasha has found a home at the Nehemiah Project. Her energy and spirit have helped to launch the Lena Sommers' Youth and Teen Literacy Program in a positive way.