CALC presents literacy award to Blain Fowler
The Camrose and Area Adult Learning Council presented its 2012 Literacy Award to Blain Fowler, June 6, in recognition of the work he has done with the Reading University program.
"He saw a possibility, Reading University, and turned it into a reality by building a strong, successful partnership between three organizations in our community," said award presenter and CALC executive director Diane McLaren. "Reading University will provide a lifelong impact on the literacy skills of elementary students who participate in it. Hopefully, it will be one of the factors which prevent these children from showing up for services at Camrose Adult Learning Council when they become adults."
Former Battle River Community Foundation board chair Ken Drever said that, as chair of the Foundation, Fowler worked closely with the Battle River School Division and the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta to make the Reading University program possible.
"His dedication and determination ensured that the funds were available."
Battle River School Division assistant superintendent Ray Bosh said it didn't take long for the school board, after hearing a presentation by Fowler in 2009, to decide that entering into a partnership with the Battle River Community Foundation (and later Augustana) on a reading program was a good idea. He added Reading University is now entering its fourth year of serving students in Camrose, and its third year of serving students in Tofield.
"More than 140 students have completed the four-week program with another 50 scheduled to start in a few weeks."
Bosh said without Fowler's ongoing commitment, dedication and financial support, Reading University would not be thriving the way it is today.
"He has worked very well with our board."
Bosh said it is such a reward at Reading University graduation to see the rewards of what Fowler has started.
"It has brought them (students) into an academic setting and it has allowed them to see what they can do. All of a sudden, literacy and learning has become important. This program changes students' lives."
Augustana acting dean Ric Johnson said Augustana shares Fowler's vision of a literate, well-informed society, and knows that literacy education has to start early.
"As an institution committed to general education as well as specific skills, a campus that encourages analytical thinking and creativity, as well as learning about specific disciplines, Augustana is grateful for people like Blain and organizations like the Camrose and Area Adult Learning Council, Battle River Community Foundation and Battle River School Division in their support of literacy and teaching and learning."
Johnson expressed what a thrill it was to participate in the Reading University graduation last summer.
"The chapel was just filled with children and their families celebrating their remarkable achievements in improving reading skills by two or three or four levels in a summer. We love having the Reading University students on our campus. They create a special kind of life that brightens our summer. We told them we look forward to seeing them again, in about say, ten years, when they are looking for a really great university."
Johnson said Augustana students participate in literacy-based community service opportunities at schools in Camrose.
"For example, Paula Marentette's students have been reading buddies with students at Chester Ronning over the past few years. Judith Spencer's students have been language assistants at Ecole Sifton School. We also place students with the Canadian Parents for French to help with after school reading at Ecole Sifton."
City councillor Ray McIsaac said he has always known Fowler as a strong booster of Camrose.
"I have known Blain for years and consider him to be a pillar of our great community for the work and the contributions he has made to Camrose and area."
Fowler expressed his appreciation to all the organizations – Camrose and Area Adult Learning Council, the Battle River School Division, Battle River Community Foundation and Augustana – who have made the Reading Program work.
"Right from square one, Reading University was a willing partnership of local organizations working together for the long-term benefit of children and society. The school division took responsibility for designing the educational program, recruiting and training staff and inviting appropriate children to participate. The community foundation committed to matching funds contributed by the school division. The university agreed to provide classroom space, use of the computer lab and catering for our students."
Fowler also commended the Battle River Community Foundation's financial partners for ensuring that the funds for the Reading Program were available at a time when the foundation's investments were not performing well.
"Our organizational partners had to have an absolute guarantee that our dollars would be there when called upon. I approached the Mayers at Central Agencies and Joe and Paula Cramer at the Norsemen Inn for a pledge to top up whatever I could collect from others as necessary to make the $30,000 that the Foundation had committed. Both parties agreed to do so. These two families have been with us from the start and continue to support the Reading University Program and other causes through the community foundation in ways that you will never know ... for that is their nature. Many generous donors have been with us from the start, including: EVRAZ, Berdie Fowler, David and Helen Samm, Neil and Denny Hansen, the ATA Local and the Augustana Faculty Association. This is a very generous and caring community."
Fowler said he was amazed that there were something like 28 teachers who applied for four lead teacher positions in the first year.
"I thought all the teachers in the system would be looking forward to a little time to charge their batteries, but no, they were eager to be part of what we were trying to accomplish."
Fowler said the people who get involved with Reading University do so because they feel it is a worthwhile endeavour.
"Those involved feel they are participating in a program that has the potential to change young lives forever."
Fowler said the method of teaching used at Reading University is unique and fun for participants.
"They are learning to read without ever realizing that it is happening. Make no mistake: this is all business and no walk in the park. However, you can learn to read, comprehend and write by playing scrabble, going on a treasure hunt, making cookies or doing research on a computer."
The purpose of the Camrose and Area Adult Learning Council's Literacy Award is to remind the community of the importance of literacy and lifelong learning, and to acknowledge those members of the community who make an outstanding contribution to expanding the possibilities for literacy and learning in Camrose.
"It is disturbing to me," said McLaren, "that statistics indicate that up to 40 per cent of Albertans do not have the literacy skills they need to participate fully in our modern society. Every week I meet adults who must upgrade their literacy and academic skills so that they can obtain a GED certificate or a high school diploma which will allow them to attend a secondary institution or obtain employment to support themselves and their families. These are adults who, for a variety of reasons, have fallen through they cracks in our educational and social systems. They want to participate fully in Camrose society and they need our assistance to do it."
Previous recipients of the Camrose and Area Adult Learning Council Literacy Award have been Sharilyn Cook, Deborah Morgan, Finola Hackett, Berdie Fowler, Janice De Paoli and David Samm.