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Volunteering is Part of My DNA

Jackie Klein with one of the youngsters in the literacy scheme

Hopefully, you may remember me. I stood down as co-chair of ESRA Modiin over a year ago to move back to South Africa. I have become involved here with a project called Link Literacy which operates in government schools in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The Link is a nonprofit organization which supports the development of literacy and numeracy in children for whom English is a second language, and who attend low-income schools. The organization was founded in 2010 by Margi Bashall, a teacher, who was inspired by The Shine Centers. It is managed and staffed solely by volunteers – members of the community who are committed to making a difference in education and who enjoy working with children. The volunteers do not need to have any teaching experience but they are required to be fluent in English as this is a second or third language for many of the children they assist.

The Link is recognized by the educational authorities, and has permission to operate during school hours. It works with children in Grades 2 and 3 who are identified by valid testing to be at risk of not achieving their potential. Teachers, at all the partner schools, are supportive of their efforts and identify those slow learners in their classes who need extra help to get over the 'hump' of starting to read.Most government schools have classes of 40-plus children, sometimes up to 50 and teaching becomes crowd control rather than imparting knowledge. So teachers do not have time to give attention to the slower learners and that is where Link come in.

Margi Bashall, the inspirational founder of Link, was a primary school teacher by profession. She believed passionately that young seven to nine-year-old children struggling with literacy and math must have a chance. Their lack of these basic skills is due to a combination of their disadvantaged backgrounds and their second language learning environment. If they can be given these basic life skills, they can go on to thrive in all subjects, but without them they will fall further and further behind. Improvement could only happen if they were to receive one-to-one tuition in reading and math in a safe and encouraging environment during their normal school day.

Drawing on many different sources of specialist primary school teaching expertise from around the country, Margi designed and refined positive, sustainable and measurable literacy and math Grade 2 and 3 interventions. A base line assessment is performed at the start of the year and the children were then re-assessed in November. The overall results of students showed that they improved dramatically in the last assessment taken in 2016. Whilst The Link is not the only factor contributing to the improvement in the children's results, it certainly has made a major impact.

Margi, together with an extraordinarily passionate body of volunteers and center managers, expanded the number of participating schools.Throughout this period, Margi was struggling with the side effects of melanoma cancer, to which she finally succumbed in November 2014. 

Engrossed in a video story at an end-of-year party at Orange Grove School, where Jackie Klein volunteers

The school at which I volunteer is Orange Grove where they have math literacy Monday and Wednesday mornings and reading Tuesday and Thursdays. Between 25 - 30 dedicated volunteers turn up for every session to take our seats in the drafty school hall. I volunteer one morning a week in the literacy program.

We are allocated the same two children to work with every time which creates a wonderful bond and allows for a satisfying sense of achievement for the volunteer as we see month on month the improvement in 'our' students. Even within our program there are four levels through which the children climb, so we first take, from the literature laid out, the appropriate reading (and play) material for our child's level. The required commitment is two hours per week during which we have two 45-minute windows to work with the child in a strictly controlled syllabus cut into 15-minute sections. The first 15 we work on whatever the Link manager tells us, maybe as basic as vowels or the 'fairy e' etc. etc. Then for 15 minutes the child reads to you, with help of course. And for the last 15 minutes, you read a story to them which they feel very important because these kids seldom hear 'good' English spoken and certainly rarely have stories read to them. In fact, a recent survey found that few of the kids even have books in their homes. The last part of the hour is spent writing up notes in their individual workbooks so that the next volunteer is aware of their progress and what needs further reinforcement. This allows for good continuity between the volunteers.

And the best part of all - I only need to turn up; the hard work is done by others. 



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Sunday, 21 July 2024

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