Originally published in the Woolwich Observer

By Whitney Neilson

Young readers across the region are once again being supported through the Strong Start reading program, boosted from a recent $4,750 donation from Josslin Insurance.

Josslin supports John Mahood Public School in Elmira through its Letters, Sounds, and WordsTM programs, which involve games and activities that encourage reading comprehension in young children.

Strong Start executive director Machelle Denison said Josslin has supported the program since 2006. The organization began in 2001 with just one school in Waterloo Region. This year its programs are in nearly 200 schools across five school boards and three regions. They plan to expand provincially.

“In 2013 we reached an organizational milestone of having helped 20,000 children,” Denison said. “As far as Woolwich Township goes, approximately 130 children are served a year in Woolwich. We’re in nine schools in Woolwich Township.”

The charity organization is driven by its large volunteer base. They each get a manual and have four hours of training before going into the schools. The program is divided into four strands. The letters strand helps children learn the names of the letters. The sounds strand focuses on learning the sounds each letter makes. The word strand teaches 26 words to know by sight because they’re common, but not easily sounded out. And the building words strand is for learning sound blending so they can decode a word and change it by adding a letter, like sand to hand.

“Some children simply need that one on one attention,” Denison said. “And the teacher in a classroom setting is notable because of the number of kids in a classroom, because of what’s required in the curriculum and time allowed. What they see here is a caring community volunteer can provide that one on one time that a teacher is just not able to give.”

The children are assessed at the beginning before they start on what they know and again at the end, and they measure the gain. The assessment results are posted on the Strong Start website.

She said Josslin’s support of the program is crucial because despite many parents reading  every day to their children, sometimes they still struggle with the mechanics of reading.

“We’ve had a lot of feedback from the education committee as well as volunteers about the development and the change in a child’s confidence and their self esteem as they see themselves as successful learners,” Denison said.

She continued, “Strong literacy skills are also a great tool for addressing poverty and think about breaking the cycle of poverty when we can equip children with strong literacy skills early in life. They stay engaged in school; they are successful in learning. It just propels itself.”

Photo: John Mahood Public School students Branden Leis, Wyatt Switjers, Lauren Weber and Tejitu Lebold, participants in Strong Start’s Letters, Sounds and Words program, thanked Josslin Insurance for its support of the program at their school. From left, Josslin’s marketing co-ordinator Amanda Scheerer, partner and operations manager Scott Wagler and Strong Start executive director Machelle Denison.