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Dooley Takes Literacy Know-How to Beijing for UNESCO Confab

by Nancy Drury Duncan 

MELFA—An Eastern Shore Community College professor took a locally developed literacy program to China to share with educators from around the world. 

Maureen Dooley, professor of adult education at the college, was invited to speak at a UNESCO international conference on lifelong learning at Beijing Academy in Beijing. Educators from more than 40 countries attended the conference, she said. 

Dooley gave a presentation on Shore People Advancing Readiness for Kindergarten (SPARK), a family-based program that combines technology and nature to bolster family literacy. 

“The SPARK program was the only family literacy program chosen to present at this conference,” Dooley said. “It was a very great honor to be included, and I was thrilled by the enthusiastic reception the SPARK program received. I am also very excited that in the fall, not only will SPARK continue at Tyson Foods, where it started, but will now be expanded to include three Accomack County primary schools.” This fall, SPARK will be offered as part of the Reading In Excellence Act in Accomack County schools. Dooley said there is also a chance for SPARK to expand globally because UNESCO has “some interest in replicating the project in Peru,” she said.

The SPARK program has helped alleviate problems on the Eastern Shore. Approximately 31 percent of the 32,800 adults in Accomack County function at basic literacy levels, and 21 percent of all families and 51 percent of the female-headed households have incomes below the poverty level.

“Extraordinary efforts are required to elevate expectations, generate interest and secure participation of the target population to break the cycle of illiteracy,” said Dooley.

The program is based on several interconnected activities. Family fun days are spent doing nature-based activities such as exploring marsh life and digging for crabs. Activity packets are distributed to parents to use at home with their children to instill an appreciation of nature while teaching pre-reading skills. The packets include original rhymes and stories. The books are designed to inspire children to read and also teach them to appreciate natural beauty. Shapes, numbers and visual discrimination are used to help prepare children for kindergarten.

The books feature photographs of local children of diverse backgrounds and ethnicity. “Children in Accomack County primary schools will have a chance to appear in the next SPARK book, said Dooley. “Thinking locally and acting globally has new meaning for me since this trip.” 

Courtesy of the Eastern Shore News, Wednesday, August 8, 2001. 

UNESCO official Adama Ouane posing with Maureen Dooley.
UNESCO official Adama Ouane poses with Maureen Dooley.
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