Mission: Literacy

Partnership with The Salvation Army Raises Reading Ability

When a second-grader named Carlos first started in The Salvation Army (TSA) and American Bible Society literacy programs, he was overwhelmed. From the beginning he clearly enjoyed his time there, but he had so many questions: “Who is God? Was he before everything else? Can he see us all the time?”

The more questions Carlos asked, the more he learned. And as Carlos’ teacher reported, he absorbed each simple answer before jumping to the next question. “I was intrigued too — by the power of the written Word of God speaking to the heart and curiosity of a little boy.”

Years ago, the Bible Society saw an opportunity to use Bible stories as the core for a literacy curriculum and worked with the Bank Street College of Education to make it happen. Extensive field-testing of a three-level series of booklets, each consisting of 30 Bible stories, proved Mission: Literacy effective in significantly raising the reading ability and comprehension of sub-par readers, for children and adults. According to the Developmental Reading Assessment®, a reading assessment tool used by TSA, an average of 89 percent of children taking Mission: Literacy programs improved their reading skills by seven reading levels.

When Dawn Sharp, an educator/consultant for TSA’s New Jersey Division, was shown the Mission: Literacy materialsshe saw a perfect fit for their 20 after-school tutoring and summer day-camp programs for children in New Jersey’s urban neighborhoods.

She says, “Mission: Literacy’s Bible stories are key. This program perfectly matches the dual mission of The Salvation Army to minister to the body by providing social services and to minister to the soul by introducing people to Jesus Christ.”

A formal partnership was struck two years ago when ABS signed a copyright license giving TSA permission to print, use and distribute Mission: Literacy materials across the country. The Bible Society donated 150 of the 90-booklet sets, each with a tutor’s guide, lesson exercises and anthologies for children and adults, in addition to materials to evaluate reading levels.

In January 2006, staff from New Jersey TSA corps in Paterson, Newark Westside and New Brunswick, attended Mission: Literacy training at the Bible Society headquarters. After-school pilot programs were launched involving 30 children and 8 tutors.

Captain Felicia Flora, a TSA officer in Newark said, “This program has made a great impact on the education of our youth. For the first time grade school kids are being introduced to the Bible and to stories they’ve never heard before.”

With Mission: Literacy catching on in other TSA corps, funds will be needed to print new textbooks and tutoring manuals. So far, TSA staff from Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas have attended training sessions to prepare to implement the program.

It was in a New Jersey ministry program that we first met this second-grader named Carlos. His teacher referred him to TSA’s after-school Mission: Literacy program after seeing two other students significantly improve their reading as a result of the program.

“Carlos was shy but showed some spark while playing games with the word cards,” says Dawn.“We talked about our first Bible story, In the Beginning. I explained that all the stories we would talk about came from the Bible.” Carlos asked,“What’s a Bible?” There was none in the room so Dawn said she’d bring one to their next session.

At the beginning of the next session Dawn showed Carlos where the story, In the Beginning, came from. Carlos followed along as Dawn read about each “day” of creation. She was heartened to see how catching a child with such a tender heart and mind with the opportunity to learn God’s Word is changing Carlos, and others like him, in more ways than one.

“The Lord . . . proved his message about his grace was true by giving them the power to perform miraculous signs and wonders.” Acts 14.3b (GNT)

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