HAYS – A literacy project started by two Fort Hays State University professors last year proved so successful that they are continuing it this year, despite facing challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. April Terry in the criminal justice department and Dr. Sarah Broman Miller (teacher education) wrote a research grant in 2020 and launched a pilot project to serve the inmate population at the Topeka Correctional Facility through a read-aloud program.
Last spring, students in Broman Miller’s teacher education practicum class worked with 10 incarcerated mothers and two grandmothers on a literacy project to improve the inmates’ basic reading skills and help them connect with their loved ones through books recorded by the inmates.
Elementary education majors had planned to read in person to the inmates, but because of COVID-19 protocols, the students video recorded their book readings, modeling for the inmates what good reading looks and sounds like. They sent their recordings to Broman Miller, who then forwarded them to the correctional facility. Each inmate received a new young adult chapter book, as well as a recordable book to be passed on to their loved ones.
Broman Miller also started a book drive in conjunction with the literacy project. The response was so overwhelming that she was able to deliver boxes of books this month to the Stockton Correctional Facility and two more facilities in Norton – the correctional facility and Valley Hope Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Center.
“You would have thought it was Christmas all over again at those facilities,” Broman Miller said. She added that “this is a really important project, being able to bridge that social connection for the inmates, especially right now during the pandemic. It’s a really good way to help people who already are experiencing a lot of trauma and give them some hope.”
Anyone wishing to donate to the ongoing book drive can drop them off at the FHSU offices of Broman Miller (Rarick 239) or Terry (Rarick 233) or at Hays’ First United Methodist Church, 305 W. Seventh. Broman Miller noted that in addition to the service portion of the project, FHSU students benefit as well.
Numerous students are getting involved in making a difference in the lives of others. Some of Terry’s criminal justice students collect data from surveys answered by the inmates before and after the project to determine how the reading project has impacted them. Others in the Department of Art are creating coloring books specific to the grandmothers and mothers in the literacy project.
“This is always important work,” Terry said. “But it is especially important now. The inmates have gone almost a year without seeing their loved ones, and the books and coloring books are an extra tool to help them connect with them.”