Books Over Dinner

Earlier this summer, through the Causeway Challenge we awarded grants to 10 different projects that answered the question, “How can parents help transform public education in Chattanooga?”

For Rebekah Griggs, language barriers are at the heart of the education struggles in her community.

Rebekah works at East Lake Elementary, a school with a Latino population of 45%, which makes literacy a huge challenge. She explained to us, “Students bring home books in English, but many of the parents feel they cannot help them especially with reading because they themselves are not confident in their English language skills. Beyond language, many parents aren’t even aware of the importance of reading with their child in their native language and the huge benefits that come from that.”

So Rebekah decided that she needed to find ways to empower all the parents at East Lake Elementary to start reading at home with their kids. Her idea, Books Over Dinner, is a series of potluck dinner parties that brings parents and students together to start a movement of parents reading aloud to their children every day for 20 minutes. Rebekah wants these dinner parties to create a welcoming environment at the school for East Lake’s Latino families, boosting the confidence of parents who are learning English and teaching the importance of reading aloud in their native language.

Tuesday night, over 120 people gathered in the cafeteria of East Lake Elementary for the very first potluck party! Families enjoyed dinner as they listened to a speaker from the public library dramatically read a book aloud, providing the parents with tips along the way. With the entire night in both English and Spanish, all the parents felt comfortable engaging the material and enthusiastically reading to their kids.

Ultimately, the goal of the night was to provide parents with the tools to help them create reading habits at home that will boost their students’ literacy levels and overall school performance. At the end of the night, families walked away with bilingual books and public library cards to start their own personal libraries at home.

Rebekah was so encouraged by the support she received from the community as well as the participating families. After such a successful night, she’s looking forward to the remaining two dinners!