Nina and Ronald Clayton picked out crayons and helped their 3-year-old son, Jaquan, color a picture.
Who: For any primary caregiver with a preschool-age child who needs to earn a GED or WorkKeys certificate. Those who complete the program get $100.When: Participants must commit to attending 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and they’re encouraged to bring their children.More info: To participate, donate or volunteer, call Sandra Fraser at 576-9136.
They spend about an hour most days doing various activities to help them improve as their child’s first teacher.
That time is one piece of a four-hour program, four days a week during which parents work on their GEDs and WorkKeys certificates and preschool children are taught social and academic skills.
This kind of program should have a waiting list, with only 20 available spots and hundreds of eligible families. But only four families are attending regularly.
“We cannot get people to continue to come,” said Eileen Chepenik, executive director of Trident Literacy Association. “I don’t want to lose this wonderful opportunity.”
Trident Literacy Association won a $65,000 competitive, national grant from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. That funding enabled the North Charleston nonprofit to launch this new comprehensive literacy program in August, and it runs through May.
The grant will be automatically renewed if the association meets certain requirements, such as serving 20 families. Seventeen families enrolled in the program, but only two were present at the North Charleston site on Thursday.
Sandra Fraser, the early childhood education program director, said some families have struggled to find transportation, while others have been evicted and are trying to meet their basic life needs. Some don’t see the value, she said.
Those who have made time for the program are reaping the benefits, she said. “They’re creating a completely different path for their children for the future,” she said.
Ronald Clayton works an overnight shift at Walmart until 7 a.m., comes home to sleep for a few hours, then goes to the North Charleston site with his wife at 9 a.m. to work on his GED. He dropped out years ago, but he’s determined to improve his life now by furthering his education and getting a better job, he said. “We want our kids to know that dropping out of school is not the best course of action,” he said.
Their four older children are in public schools, and the preschool for Jaquan means both Nina and Ronald can study alongside each other. Without the grant, Trident Literacy Association couldn’t afford to offer that kind of preschool program.
When they spent time in Jaquan’s class, Nina crouched beside him and Ronald stood behind both. Jaquan used a touchscreen computer to play a memory game that required him to match pictures and letters. His parents encouraged him and clapped when he got the right answer, and they all shared high-fives.
The grant provided enough money to cover adults’ GED books, as well as materials for the preschool classroom. It also allowed Chepenik to pay for three tutors for adults, two preschool teachers and a preschool assistant. Parents also receive health and financial lessons.
Chepenik has met with community leaders to recruit participants and has gone door to door with fliers. She’s not sure what to do next.
“(The program) is so fabulous, I can’t even begin to tell you,” she said. “There are so many people who could benefit from this, but it’s just not on their radar screen.”