An Inspiring Holyoke Story
HELI, is an acronym that stands for the Holyhoke Early Literacy Initiative, a program initiated to encourage and train young children to read as early as possible during their formative years. It is a partnership between Holyhoke Public Schools and local community organizations that works with over 5000 school children.
It was one of thirty literacy initiatives across America to be recognized recently for its achievements. The Holyhoke Early Literacy Initiative, which focuses on children up to the ages of five, was presented with the Gateway Cities Innovation award in Boston, Massachusetts.
HELI’s grassroots initiatives have attracted the attention of role players across the country. While their programs specifically target school children in lower income communities, the successful implementation of their programs should also be of interest to more privileged communities. Test results show that children in higher income families are also struggling to come to terms with the ability to read properly in preparation for school.
These initiatives are not solely based on learning outcomes for the children. It also focuses awareness on gender and race-based outcomes where tolerance for cultural and class differences is encouraged.
3 Focus Areas
The 30 literacy programs are focused on three areas. The programs were designed to encourage children to prepare themselves adequately during non-school hours and encourage them to remain active during school hours.
- Improving School Readiness
This goes hand in hand with children’s ability to read and the involvement of parents in encouraging them to overcome their disabilities. It is a challenge because many parents are themselves illiterate.
- Reducing Absenteeism
Awareness had to be created amongst children’s parents about the importance of regular classroom attendance. This would be difficult for working parents to monitor.
- Improving Summer Learning
This initiative was focused mainly on children from lower-income households. The goal is to improve academic achievement which entails spending more time outside of normal school hours on academic subjects.
The Campaign for Grade Level Reading named HELI is an early pacesetter in the campaign for higher literacy levels for lower-income school children because they were able to improve on the outcomes highlighted in the three targeted focus areas of improving attendance, better preparing the children for school and inculcating the desire to learn beyond the classroom. The Campaign for Grade Level Reading is recognized as an important barometer for high school graduation and career success amongst students.
Holyhoke Public Schools Partnerships
The partnership between local organizations and the Holyhoke public schools was a successful collaboration which resulted in creating the desired awareness of public school attendance amongst underprivileged parents and reduced absenteeism amongst their children. The list of partners and their achievements are endless. Focus areas include behavior management, physical and mental health and creating effective partnerships for the children with their parents and teachers.
Michael Moriarty is a resident Grade Level Reading Lead. Observing extra-curricular learning activities at the Donahue School, he recognized the positive impact home visits in the area were having on the children and their needs.