New Haven Reads has a clear mission, one which we work toward day after day: to share the joy and power of reading and to increase the literacy skills of our students. But we also know that our work involves more than just working with our students directly.
Outreach Director Natosha Wengreen recognized that New Haven Reads could expand our reach to play a more vital role in our local and national community. In launching the New Haven Reads Lecture Series, Natosha said she set out to “bring the passion and mission of what New Haven Reads does to a wider community of people, to draw awareness to what we do, which is teaching literacy to students.”
These lectures, hosted every Saturday from now until August 29th, come from a myriad of different careers and offer vastly different perspectives. For example, Wendy North’s August 8th lecture will focus on dyslexia and literacy, while Professor Bryan Brown, lecturing on August 22nd, studies literacy in more than just language arts. “He talks about science, how race and identity involve themselves, and how academic language in science can be exclusionary and limiting,” Natosha explained.
There is a common theme throughout all of these lectures, however: to promote an understanding of someone who is different from oneself.
“When I came into the position and started to read all the surveys and talk to volunteers, fellows, and interns, the number one thing they say is that I worked with students that I probably would never have met in my entire life,” Natosha said. Enabling these connections between people from different backgrounds also places a responsibility on us at New Haven Reads to ensure that we are educating ourselves and our wider community on issues related to race, identity, and socioeconomic status.
Dr. Carlotta Penn, who spoke on Saturday, discussed this intersection of race, identity, social class, and literacy. She taught the 40 attendees about some of the leaders — Septima Clark, Paulo Freire, Katerina te Heikoko Mataria, and Edie Benton Benai — throughout history who have sought to reform schools and other institutions so that students from diverse racial, ethnic, and social classes will experience educational equality. After this, she emphasized the way in which we — as community members, volunteers, and teachers — must strive toward real equality.
“We are bringing who we are to whatever educational space we are in, and it is our responsibility to understand that,” Dr. Penn explained.
To address the ways in which educational equity goes beyond just the classroom, the last portion of the Lecture Series will discuss architecture. “This relates to the fact that even the buildings we know and use — parks, libraries, and other public spaces — are not accessible to people in equal ways,” Natosha explained.
SuWe at New Haven Reads hope that the Lecture Series serves as an opportunity for all of us to learn more about these issues and become more aware of the ways in which we can help solve them, whether that be in individual tutoring sessions or, more broadly, through our support for equitability and accessibility in educational institutions and in public spaces.