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People of the Word

People of the Word

A School-Community Literacy Campaign

Westport project

ACTS is introducing an arts-integrated, community-engaged literacy campaign that seeks to engage all members of a school community – educators, students, parents, program partners, and neighborhood residents – in the active exploration of reading, writing, history and culture.


Our understanding of literacy is not simply English language arts proficiency, reading, speaking and writing. Literacy is a comprehensive suite of human proficiency: meaning-making, interpretation, self-expression, and communication. Literacy, broadly understood, is the entire field of culture, expression and understanding within which young minds are developed. People of the Word makes the work of educating children a collaborative process – sharing the job of raising literate students who are capable of working with the language and ideas of their time. While classroom instruction in reading and writing remains a struggle in urban classrooms, communities of color are rich with culture and communication that can cultivate literacy, build bridges, and make reading a joy.

While many approaches to literacy focus on a set of discrete skills that added together enable a child to navigate the written word, our work places these competencies in the context of community and its collective interpretation of experience. The kind of literature young children are immersed in is of critical importance to their development – their self-concept, identity, resilience, and sense of belonging. Content really does matter – in ways that we can see in both identity development and language competencies. Culture matters as well: we have lost the sense of African Americans as “People of the Word”; this project aims to restore a culture of literacy to the school communities with which we are working.

People of the Word engages children, teachers, families and community residents in a collective project that actively engages in arts activities emanating from a set of collectively selected books. Each participating Site Team will design a literacy campaign for their school. The Campaign has four distinct steps: 1) a school-community event selecting a set of high-quality children’s books and celebrating community culture; 2) sharing books with the children so that they can own them; 3) coordinated classroom-, partner- and family-based literacy activities based on the selected books – theatre, visual arts, oral histories, music, 4) school-community-wide celebration of literacy activities. High schools can enrich their participation by adding a mentor-reader component. Site Teams will undertake reflection, assessment, and integration of the lessons learned into planning for the following school year. With interest or questions, contact Paula Byrd


Photos from 2015-2016 Program Year!

Westport community banner

Tom Miller-inspired banner and watercolor cityscapes painted by Westport Boys and Girls Club students

Arlington students made a video!

Students from Arlington Elementary Middle School made a video based on a story from the POTW book list,  Daisy and the Doll. 

Arlington student paints a portrait

Illustrator London Ladd visited Arlington Elementary Middle School students and taught them how to draw and paint a portrait.

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