Brownell-Holmes

‘Live Literacy’ combined learning, literacy and entertainment during the worst days of the pandemic

FLINT, Michigan — In the early months of the pandemic, when all nonessential businesses were closed, many families had no choice but to stay cooped up in their homes. During this time, one Holmes STEM Academy employee brought both parents and children temporary respite with her series of Facebook streams.

Dubbed "Live Literacy" by Ashley Strozier, family engagement facilitator at Holmes and creator of the series, the streams were aimed at elementary-aged children. They consisted of her or a guest reading out loud, much like a teacher or parent would in a classroom. 

According to Strozier, the idea came from a conversation with her mom, who had also spent her life working in education. 

"My mom mentioned to me that it would be really nice if there were familiar faces reading to the students on a regular basis," Strozier says.

Although Flint Community Schools was starting a similar program at the time, Strozier says she was inspired by a parent who told her she wanted to see readers from her own community. 

Strozier saw the series as an opportunity to continue with Holmes' effort to provide deliberate and tailor-made programs to the Brownell-Holmes community, a centerpoint of the school’s methodology since transitioning from Brownell-Holmes Elementary to Holmes in 2013. 

“We’ve been working very hard … with being personal, being intentional, and taking every chance to communicate with our students and making it count,” Strozier says.

After the first few streams in late April, Live Literacy took off. What had started as a small, almost supplemental addition to an existing program quickly spread past the Brownell-Holmes neighborhood’s boundaries and into the homes of children across the entire city. 

“The interaction with our school’s [Facebook] page had increased tremendously. I want to say we got to over 900 likes in the weeks since we started Live Literacy and after parents started looking for more online resources for their kids,” Strozier says.

While 900 likes may seem like nothing in the age of social media, it's a lot for a school district that serves around 4,200 students, 400 or so of whom actually attended Holmes in 2019.

Billie Dantzler, a Flint resident, parent, and pre-K teacher, says she had just started using social media in April when she came across the Holmes Facebook page. 

According to Dantzler, the pandemic had impacted her and her 9-year-old daughter’s reading habits. The two frequented the Flint Public Library and upon its closure, were left without access to the plethora of reading material they were accustomed to. 

Dantzler and her daughter were forced to look to the internet for new reading material. It was during this search that the two came across the Holmes Facebook page. 

“With everything shutting down, we had to shift our reading habits online. That’s how I came across Mrs. Strozier’s Live Literacy,” Dantzler says.

It wasn’t long until Live Literacy became a staple in the Dantzler home. 

“My daughter loved it," Dantzler says. " … She actually looked forward to Live Literacy. It has become a very positive habit in our home.”

Dantzler says she would stream the readings to her TV so her daughter could really get the feeling of being read to and seeing the pages of the books. 

“It kind of just worked its way into our lives and we loved it,” Dantzler says. 

In total, Live Literacy ran for over 20 "episodes" between late April and early June. Many of them featured Holmes teachers as well as community members; community partners like Isaiah Oliver, the CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint; and even authors of the books being read, like Suvi Chilsom, author of “Bad Caterpillar.”

At the moment, none of the Live Literacy videos are available. Holmes' Facebook page has been taken down as the school transitions to become Holmes STEM Middle School Academy following the announcement that Flint Jr. High School, previously known as Flint Northwestern High School, would be closing.

“It wasn’t supposed to blow up into this big thing, which it has. It really was just a small idea so that we had a chance to connect with our students at Holmes. … The series opened up an opportunity for our families to get to know somebody else that lived or worked in the community,” Strozier says.

Read more articles by Santiago Ochoa.

Santiago Ochoa is a freelance reporter and communications student at UM-Flint. He is the project editor for On The Ground community reporting series and currently serves as The Michigan Times' Editor-in-Chief. Santiago has worked with publications and organizations like The New York Times, the Interamerican Press Association and Flint Beat. You can reach him @santi8a98 on Twitter and Instagram and email him at [email protected]
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