Bringing Families Together and Building Authentic Relationships (by Sean Bartley, Julie Nicklas, Shea Quinlan, & Courtney Rosacker)


hands-1191449_960_720“More than 37 percent of fourth-graders are not reading at the basic level in their grade, and 26 percent of eighth-graders are not reading at their basic level. The Family Literacy Centers also predicts that if a child is not proficiently reading by the fourth grade, he or she will have a 78 percent chance of not catching up with classmates.” (Concordia) 

The above quote demonstrates a dire need for improved literacy in the U.S. Since education is a cornerstone of social justice and literacy is an implicit ideal of education, our idea was to hold an event that promoted literacy and families spending time together. For our Participating in Community team project, we decided to work with Community Partners for Affordable Housing and sponsor a Literacy Night for the Greenburg Oaks apartments in Tigard, OR. “CPAH’s mission is to promote a healthy community through the development of permanent affordable housing, sustainable economic growth, and community-based partnerships.” (CPAH) Since our group’s theme is “Supporting Families, Supporting Kids” and the supporting framework is “Building Authentic Relationships”, we thought this project would be a great fit.  The core concepts behind our idea are that “Educated adults have more influence on their children’s education; the children become literate adults who, in turn, produce more educable children” (Sticht p.1) and that “interactive reading is a central aspect of a literate environment” (Bus p.17). Creating a literate environment is at the core of supporting kids and families, in that reading together can be beneficial to both parents and kids in many ways, including children cultivating more interest in school-  “If parents value schooling and think it is important, then kids take it seriously.” (Lareau p.81) Sean captured the event on video and we put this video commentary together.


In an effort to attract the community to the event, we offered up a meal and had the event in the late afternoon when kids are out of school but still able to attend. After Shea’s tireless efforts, Chipotle of Lake Oswego was kind enough to provide food for the event. Food is a very important component of the project in multiple ways. By offering food at the dinner hour as a component of the family event, we offer the opportunity for families to sit, eat, and be together. This is meaningful for parents that work since it isn’t always easy to provide a family dinner and get everyone to sit down together and relax without being preoccupied the trappings of normal, everyday life. Since we were helping lower-income families the food was integral to the process; food insecurity is often a side effect of poverty. “Food insecurity and insufficiency are associated with many adverse health and developmental outcomes in U.S. children including poorer mathematics scores, grade repetition, absenteeism, tardiness, visits to a psychologist, anxiety, aggression, psychosocial dysfunction, and difficulty getting along with other children.” (Jyoti) This shows that lower-income families are more more likely to be affected by all these negative outcomes.  Everyone who attended our event was well-fed, and there was food left over which was all taken home by those in need.

After eating, we gave the kids and parents a reading and writing activity to do together. The activity was a premade story (written by Julie) with blank spaces for the kids to fill in with their own creative ideas. This made an opportunity for kids to read, write, and be creative all at the same time. It also gave us the opportunity to interact with the kids and parents, helping with the activity or just talking in some cases. Some of the older kids helped out too, providing even more opportunity for building authentic relationships within their community. When the stories were filled in, kids volunteered to come up to the front of the room and read their stories to the group, which was great fun for everyone. Educationally speaking this activity probably had the most positive impact on the families, in that “Researchers suggest that the most valuable aspect of the read-aloud activity is that it gives children experience with decontextualized language, requiring them to make sense of ideas that are about something beyond the here and now.” (Beck) The kids were so engaged by the stories it really felt like we accomplished our goal of producing this effect through literacy-based activity. Nearly every story got read to the group before moving to the next phase of the night.

For the final activity of the evening, Courtney hosted a cakewalk-style game that included a creative literacy twist. Kids walked a path with letters on the floor. When the clock stopped, if their letter was called then they had to come up with word that started or ended on that letter for a small prize (school supplies and small toys). This was by far the most fun activity for the kids, some of whom began memorizing words for every letter in case they got called. It really gave a sense of the knowledge and ability these kids might not be getting recognized for in traditional education settings due to external factors like poverty getting in the way. Hopefully providing that opportunity to shine in this setting opens up more possibility of it happening at school and in everyday life.

To ensure the event had even more component of bringing families together and building authentic relationships, we thought it would be a great idea to have parents volunteer to read short stories to small groups of kids. This would get both parents and kids to “break the ice” on this activity if it wasn’t already a normal part of their routine, and would further encourage those who already read to do it more. We were unable to complete this part of the plan due to time constraints and unfortunately not enough parents showed up to properly split into groups. It’s regrettable that this didn’t happen, but in the end the activity as a whole felt like a complete success. Everyone stayed until the very end and fully participated, proving the existence of a desire to learn on the part of the families, regardless of their current economic status. Nights like these open windows into education, creativity, and self-fulfillment for kids and parents alike.


4 thoughts on “Bringing Families Together and Building Authentic Relationships (by Sean Bartley, Julie Nicklas, Shea Quinlan, & Courtney Rosacker)

  1. Reading is power and knowledge. I like that your group had activities targeted to educated parents in the importance of literacy. It takes a village to install this values and ideas in kids and parents are the most important element in creating this village. Thank you for making it a point to emphasis that social injustice are created by our environment surrounding as well. I believe some it’s a huge reminder to educators that many of their students go home and can’t afford a hot meal. The same things in life are taken for granted especially when someone has never lived similar situations.

  2. Wow you guys! Your event looks like it turned out to be a huge success! What a great way to bring families together and just spend quality time with each other. I am so happy to hear that everyone that attended your event, was really active in participating, because that’s what makes something like this really successful! And the fact that you guys had left over food to bless those families that could possibly not have had food to eat for the next few days is absolutely amazing. The idea of having different activities for both the kids AND parents to participate in was so great in the way that you were bringing families closer together. Kudos to you guys on a job well done!

  3. It is great to see what a success this event turned out to be for the community at Greenburg Oaks. When I was volunteering the next day, I heard many of the children talking about it. It’s great to be able to pull so many people in the community together for such a great cause. This community is very fortunate to have such wonderful people running programs for these families, and it is wonderful that you were all able to be a part of running your own event. It sounds like you were all able to really connect with the children and their families. Similar to the project that my group implemented for high school students, this event also allows children to bring home books to create their own libraries at home. Reading is such a powerful tool and it is important that we continue encouraging children to read for fun. Good stuff, you guys!

  4. I always find it incredible to see younger children engaging in an activity so quickly and wholeheartedly. I love how you developed ways to encourage both parents and children to be involved, since, as Marie points out, it can take an entire community to affect change. The work you did at this one event obviously had an impact on these children, and I hope that in the future they will be inspired by you to continue this sort of thing. To be given the opportunity to read and create with friends and neighbors can be a powerful tool in the fight against illiteracy and serve as a platform for building those authentic relationships. Your team has shown that efforts can be made by the community to fight these inequities and opportunity gaps. Awesome job!

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