One critical factor needs more attention in the conversation about the state of literacy in our community, and that is the role of parents, especially mothers. Generally speaking, the mother is the one who lays the foundation for her children’s literacy development and educational success long before her children start school.

By talking, singing, playing with them and reading to them, she is the one who introduces and reinforces positive educational activities and instills a love of learning. When mothers can’t read or when they have low literacy skills, this critical piece is missing, and her children are virtually set up for failure.

Research conducted by the National Institutes of Health concluded that “a mother’s reading skill is the greatest determinant of her children’s future academic success, outweighing other factors, such as neighborhood and family income.”

Another study determined, “If we want to improve children’s opportunities for success, especially those living in poverty, one of the most powerful potential levers for change is not the children themselves, but rather the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of the adults who surround them.”

I applaud the wonderful intervention programs that send free books into homes in high poverty neighborhoods so mothers, fathers and caregivers can read to their pre-school age children. However, my heart goes out to children in homes where these adults do not have the skills to read, and thus no reading and no preparation take place at this critical developmental stage of a child’s life. And there are far too many such homes in our community.

When children are deprived of exposure to books and reading because the adults who surround them have low literacy skills, they start school behind their peers and most often never catch up. They drop out as soon as they are old enough. Unqualified for jobs, they perpetuate the tragic cycle of illiteracy and poverty.

I know we can change that dynamic. Trident Literacy has been changing that dynamic for 44 years. We focus our efforts on prevention at the base level — on helping parents, especially mothers, gain the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to ensure their children can succeed. By bolstering the literacy of adults, Trident Literacy is changing the face of our children’s educational future.

This past year Trident Literacy provided instruction to more than 1,000 adults in the tri-county. More than 50 percent were women. Many of them came to Trident Literacy because they want to set an example for their children. They want to earn their GED and WorkKeys Certificate so they can get a better job, be a better provider. They want to be able to help their children succeed in school and break the cycle of illiteracy and poverty. I wish there were more mothers like these.

You can help. Do you know a mother who needs a GED or wants to improve her skills? Call us today — 843-747-2223. New student enrollment begins July 27.

Oh, and fathers are welcome, too.

Eileen Chepenik

Executive Director

Trident Literacy Association

Rivers Avenue

North Charleston