One year into a series of initiatives to boost literacy among Del Norte’s youngest citizens, its major players want to get the community’s input on their efforts so far and help them decide what the next steps will be.

During the 2017 Literacy Symposium on Thursday, members of the School Systems Implementation Team will ask new and seasoned parents about community services that would have helped them when their kids were younger. They will ask parents to discuss their child’s education needs, particularly for youngsters who are preschool-age, as well as programs that are working well for their kids.

“This is all about what are some things we can do as a community, as parents, as caregivers, that can assist in our kids being ready for literacy and reading,” said Connie Gilman, Del Norte County Unified School District’s elementary curriculum coordinator. “The whole point is for us to continue to do this collaboration. What do the families really need? What’s really going to support them?”

The School Systems Implementation Team is an effort of the California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities Initiative that includes the Del Norte Child Care Council, First 5 Del Norte and the school district. Its ultimate goal is to have every third-grader reading at grade level by the year 2023.

To realize that goal, the School Systems Implementation Team has focused on boosting the number of kindergarten-ready students by helping family childcare providers offer a preschool-quality education to their charges, according to Del Norte Child Care Council Executive Director Melodee Fugate.

Fugate said the Child Care Council was awarded an Early Head Start Partnership grant. This has boosted the number of childcare providers offering a preschool-quality education to their charges to 62 percent in Del Norte County, she said.

There is also the Preschool Experience for All program that will help those unable to enroll their child in preschool provide a preschool experience, Fugate said.

“There are parents who do not choose (preschool) for their child, whether they’re not working and there’s no need or if the child is staying with grandma and grandpa,” she said. “We don’t want to jeopardize or cause them to conform, (to think) they have to use a preschool setting. The goal is to meet the parent, meet the child, where they’re at and offer a preschool experience no matter what their day looks like.”

For youngsters who are already in school, Gilman has rolled out her Un-Homework Initiative at Mary Peacock, Joe Hamilton and Redwood schools. Eschewing worksheets and other traditional forms of homework, Gilman said the new programs have children interacting with their parents.

“The traditional homework we’ve had in the past, there are no research studies that shows that has an impact for kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders,” Gilman said. “We try to find things that would have an impact. One of the things our kids are weak on is vocabulary. Think of the language you get out of kids when you’re at the beach tidepooling or at the park or watching a National Geographic (documentary) and talking about it.”

One teacher has even asked her students to eat dinner with their parents with no devices, Gilman said.

Since she began the Un-Homework Initiative earlier this year, Gilman said Mountain School has revised its homework policy. Bess Maxwell Elementary School and Smith River School are in the process of revising their policies.

Gilman said there will be four or five tables at the symposium Thursday asking parents what they’d like to see come home from school.

“We want to come up with other ways of assisting kids and parents in understanding what real learning is,” Gilman said. “Real learning is not a worksheet.”

Another program that will be launched on Thursday is a free texting program that parents can enroll in that will offer reminders about what they could do for their youngster. Gilman said it would start with things like a six-week checkup when the children are still infants and then focus on things parents can do with their children as they get older.

The 2017 Literacy Symposium will be held from 5-8 p.m. at Elk Valley Rancheria’s Sam Lopez Community Center, 2332 Howland Hill Road, Crescent City. Dinner and childcare will be provided. To RSVP, visit http://bit.ly/literacydelnorte or call 707-465-1238.

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