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Helping Our New Neighbors Learn to Love Reading

For more than a year, the Afghan American Alliance of Georgia has been aiding the Afghan refugee families who have arrived here in our community. We’ve worked together to help them furnish apartments, clothe children, obtain medical care and so much more.

Now, the Alliance is taking on yet another vital mission: helping recently resettled Afghan women and their children learn to read and write in English.

“The best way to empower refugees is to provide them with quality English language skills,” said Jennie Parker, who has been teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) for 15 years.

To achieve that empowerment goal, Jennie is working with another experienced ESL instructor, Cathy Hogan-Davies, on a pilot program. It was launched in September by the Alliance in a partnership with Georgia State University’s Department of Applied Linguistics & ESL.

Together, Jennie and Cathy are developing and overseeing the program and mentoring the two instructors: Cindia Cameron, a GSU graduate student in Applied Linguistics, and Chenoa Daniels, a communications consultant who teaches ESL part time.

The initiative is helping four Afghan families living in an apartment complex in Stone Mountain. By providing at-home services with qualified instructors, the program is relieving learners of the burden of finding transportation and childcare for pre-schoolers.

The program has two childcare workers who don’t just quietly babysit; they are charged with helping the youngsters improve fine-motor skills and develop a love of learning. And as the Afghan mothers learn more about phonics and other reading skills, they are becoming better able to help their older children thrive in school.

Cathy has been teaching English to speakers of other languages for three decades. She describes working with Afghan women as “one of the most fruitful rewards a literacy educator may experience.”

She finds that the women “come to their classes eager and hungry to study,” She said she is heartened by “the light that shines in their eyes when they discover they have the ability to learn and to read.”

And to underscore how much the program is needed, Cathy added that two of the Afghan women “did not know their numbers but have now learned 1 through 20. They are now able to use these numbers in the context of money and time.”

To evaluate progress, the program is using several measures, including the LaRue Reading Skills Assessment, as well as an elementary-level English assessment that Cathy developed.

The literacy program was initiated by the AAAGa Education Committee, co-chaired by board members Dr. John Bunting and Jennie.Cathy’s church, Kirkwood United Church of Christ, provided funding for teaching materials.

With your help, we plan to expand the program to help more Afghan women and children prepare for life here in Georgia.

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