Fighting depression after her husband and brother were murdered by carjackers, Rosa Flores moved from Brooklyn to Spokane and joined an adult education class.
One year later, Flores has checked off two goals on a list she posts on her refrigerator. Now that she has a driver’s license and a home loan, her next aim is to earn a general equivalency diploma.
So while her 4-year-old daughter, Alexis, plays with clay and crayons in a Head Start classroom next door, Flores catches up on the math, history and English she missed when she dropped out of school.
The 25-year-old woman said her life improved immensely because of the Even Start program at Spokane’s East Central Community Center.
But it’s her daughter’s future that Even Start may change the most. The government-funded program combines adult education, parenting classes and preschool.
“She’s going to school and I’m going to school,” Flores said of her daughter. “Sometimes she sees me doing my homework and she wants to do homework, too.”
A growing number of programs in Spokane stress “family literacy” - the idea that successful citizens grow from families that value learning. Family literacy has caught the interest of Spokane business leaders with money and time to give.
On Saturday, several hundred people will participate in the second annual Walk for Literacy sponsored by Washington Mutual and the Spokane Literacy Coalition. Each child who walks will get a free book and can enter a drawing to win a $100 savings bond.
The walk, about three miles, begins at 10 a.m. at the Washington Water Power building, 1411 E. Mission.
Encouraging reading to preschoolers will be a focus of Success by Six, a partnership between United Way and Momentum established to help children enter school ready to learn. Success by Six will announce its nine strategies in a few weeks.
Spokane is entering a new era of giving attention to very young children, say excited educators and social service providers.
“We’re way past the first steps,” said Pam Praeger, a community college educator who has banged the drum of early childhood development among Spokane visionaries for years.
“The collaboration between business, education and community leaders is far ahead of other communities,” Praeger said. “Once our strategies are developed, things get implemented very quickly. We’re speaking the same language and have the same goals.”
Business leaders who are tired of pouring money into projects that only bandage problems are attracted to fighting illiteracy, said Sally Duffy, Washington Mutual assistant vice president.
“We try to make sure the bulk of our funds go to systemic changes. Illiteracy is at the bottom of so many problems,” Duffy said.
Besides Saturday’s walk, the bank also sponsors a hotline that matches tutors with people who need help. (That number is (800) 433-0121.)
In Spokane County, an estimated 40,000 adults are functionally illiterate, that is, unable to fill out an employment application, follow written instructions or read a newspaper. That number is based on a U.S. Department of Education estimate that 15 percent of adults in Washington state are functionally illiterate.
National studies show a strong relationship between a parent and child’s literacy levels. It’s simple really. Homes where books, newspapers, pens and pencils are part of life produce children who learn to read and write.
Those children grow up to earn higher incomes and rely less on welfare.
The new attention to literacy is welcomed by people who have worked in the area for years.
The Barton School, a project of First Presbyterian Church, is starting its 27th year teaching adults to read and immigrants to speak English. The school has 35 students and a long waiting list.
“We need volunteers, people who can commit to two times a week or any amount of time they can give,” said school director Mildred Scheel.
Retired teacher Jeanette Cornish, president of the Spokane Literacy Coalition, said the coalition was merely hanging together after government support for literacy fell off during the 1980s.
“We were thrilled to death when all of a sudden Washington Mutual contacted us,” Cornish said.
During a break in her Even Start class, Flores walked next door to visit her daughter in the Head Start classroom.
Mother and daughter played together, talking about the pictures they arranged on a felt board. Then Flores got up and said good-bye.
“Where are you going?” her daughter asked.
“To my classroom,” Flores said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: LEGGING FOR LITERACY The second annual Walk for Literacy begins at 10 a.m. Saturday. Each child who walks will get a free book and can enter a drawing to win a $100 savings bond. The walk, about three miles, begins at the Washington Water Power building, 1411 E. Mission.