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March 11, 2019: Krista Poole CEO of CanLearn, Improve Family and Adult Literacy       website

Gerry Meeks introduced our speaker of the day, Krista Poole. Krista happened to have a birthday today and so we serenaded her appropriately. Krista is an advocate for learning needs. She is the executive director of CanLearn. It is the 40th Anniversary of the organization this year. Gerry also likes Krista because she brings Gerry cookies!

CanLearn is a registered charity that helps children, youth and adults with learning, attention and literacy. It was founded in 1979 and called the Calgary Learning Centre. Their mandate is to unlock potential. In a study of 16 to 24-year-old youth, Canada ranks 17 out of 23 countries for literacy, and numeracy (OECD 2016). 38% of adult Calgarians underachieve in literacy, 15% have learning disabilities or attention disorders. 23% of youth fail to complete high school.

Literacy is important because it is protective. Youth with literacy issues are more likely to drop out of school, have poor mental health, be impoverished, be involved in the judicial system, be less healthy and become involved in addictions. This becomes cyclical in the family. When a child drops out of school the cost is $16,000 per child per year.

Why is literacy an issue? Because it is not a priority for government and people around us. During 2010 to 2014, five national literacy organizations closed their doors. There is a lack of training for literacy facilitators. There is a lack of innovation in the field. There is a myth in the field that is supported by flawed research concluding that meaningful progress will not be made.

CanLearn provides family literacy programs, after-school ready programs for Grade 1 & 2. They advocate and train literacy facilitators. They also provide myth-busting by innovating and providing informed research to transform the embedded social-emotional component of learning. They are advocating at universities to train teachers in introduction to reading. When we create strong readers by Grade 3, when these skills are needed, high school dropout rates will fall.

There is a gap in the Grade 7 to 8 programming at junior high schools. Social-emotional learning in literacy is important here. Highly skilled volunteers are needed. Students need a relaxing environment since school is perceived as stressful. A pilot group was asked what would help. Students identified relaxation, music, working as a group, passionate facilitators, no boring lectures, being current, hip, supportive and welcoming, dealing with stress and anxiety. A new pilot project was funded by the Burns Memorial for one year for Grade 7 and 8 students at risk. CanLearn developed a curriculum with three volunteers, two hours/week for 10 weeks. It was called P4L. Feedback from the pilot project was good. Literacy helps unlock potential!

Krista answered a variety of questions. The first question was about the stats and did they contain English as a Second Language learners? The answer was no. A question was asked about technology to help learners. Although digital literacy is important, it is not important for preschoolers and not needed. Reading is not instinctual. Using books for learning is important at this stage. Krista stated that there are no long-term studies on the use of technology at this young age, and we do not understand the effect. The technology does not span a generation yet.

Tazim Asaria thanked Krista for telling us about CanLearn and presented her with the Boltman. At the end, Krista was also presented with a birthday cake!

reported by Marie Rickard

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