Today a reader, tomorrow a leader

An in depth look at the Suas Literacy Support Programme

If you can read this, thank a teacher. It may be something we all take for granted, but at one point or another in our lives somebody has had to teach us the fundamental skill of reading. This person may have been anyone; a mother, a grandfather, a school teacher.

Although for some, reading does not come naturally. If a love for reading isn’t encouraged and allowed to flourish in a child’s early years, reading can become somewhat of a challenge as they progress through education.

Often times, because of background or circumstance, children struggle with reading, which in turn makes learning all other subjects exceptionally more difficult. For many children, particularly those living in disadvantaged areas, this is the harsh reality.

However, reading skills are easily nurtured by a caring and dedicated mentor. This belief is shared by Suas Educational Development and its representative Trinity society, Suas Trinity, who have been successfully running their Literacy Support Programme for six years.

The Suas Literacy Support Programme (LSP) provides one-to-one literacy support for primary and secondary school children in the Dublin area by pairing each child up with a college student “mentor,” to read and chat with them for one hour a week. Mentors and children quickly begin to build a strong rapport and the children become excited for the chance to tell their mentors about what has been going on in their lives that particular week.

Even if the element of academic support which the programme provides for the children is disregarded, it is almost equally as important for them to talk about only themselves for a few minutes per week and feel that they are being listened to. The confidence building and the rise in self-esteem that this real attention provides is palpable.

One teacher in a school which facilitates the Literacy Support Programme (LSP) described it as being about “making them (the child) feel and believe that ‘I’m an important person’”. It also provides an important window for them into the outside world and a chance to see what college courses and jobs could be available to them in the future.

The children got another taste of what might lie ahead of them in the future on February 6 when each school that took part in the programme came to Trinity’s Graduates Memorial Building for their LSP graduation. This meant that each child could officially say that they had graduated from Trinity, something that some of us can only aspire to actually achieve.

The event was a huge success with hundreds of children, mentors, teachers, principals, and even proud parents in attendance. Labour Party senator and former principal of St Laurence O’Toole’s Girls’ Primary School, Aodhán O’Ríordán, kicked off the proceedings by giving the children who took part in the programme the self-proclaimed “greatest compliment you can get” – “you’re only massive”. This was followed by the presentation of certificates to all of the children and mentors in attendance.

Caoimhe Horner, a third year English Literature and History student and co-ordinator of LSP in Trinity, described the ceremony as “a huge success, enjoyed not only by the kids involved but also by their teachers, parents, and grandparents”. She also extended a special thank you to Lainey O’Sullivan of Trinity Musical Theatre Society for singing so beautifully and providing entertainment at the ceremony.

The Suas tagline “Literacy Changes Everything” is grounded in an undeniable truth. They have set up LSP in disadvantaged areas as this is where the need for education is the greatest. In these communities, children are more likely to drop out of school at an early age, more likely to be poor, more likely to suffer from mental health difficulties, and more likely to die six years earlier than children from more privileged backgrounds.

Speaking to Trinity Life, Éimear Larkin, Communications Executive of Suas, spoke of the unfortunate reality that when a child is illiterate they are “deprived of the tools, skills and confidence they need to break out of poverty and poor life choices”. She describes the Suas Literacy Support Programme as “designed not only to support children to improve their literacy skills but also to develop their sense of self-worth and confidence”. For her, “Suas volunteer mentors who work one-to-one with children are at the core of this change”.

The great work that this programme has done in improving literacy and confidence in children in the greater Dublin area has been immeasurable. However, this is a problem which will not go away quickly. Today one in ten children in Irish schools have serious difficulty with reading or writing. In some disadvantaged schools this figure is almost as high as one in three. The aim of Suas is to reach and work with an additional 3,984 children in both Ireland and abroad by 2020. This goal is an ambitious one and will not be achieved without the help of student volunteers.