Mount Allison researchers launch new phase of intergenerational literacies program with students, families, and educators
In 2021, the Together Time intergenerational literacies program was born out of the collaborative research of economics professor Dr. Carla VanBeselaere and religious studies professor Dr. Susie Andrews. The pair have been exploring the local literacies landscape alongside valuable community partners Patricia Knockwood from the Sackville Public Library and Allison Butcher with the Sackville Playschool Inc., associate researcher Matthew Dunleavy (York University), and students from across the University.
Each week, Together Time sees kindergarteners, first graders, and their households receive a different story sack, which is a backpack filled with books, puzzles, games, and toys oriented around different themes, such as dinosaurs, friendship, and gardening.
This initiative is at the heart of VanBeselaere and Andrews’ work on how emotions shape engagement with literacy-related learning.
“The story sacks are a way of fostering what we hope are positive emotions connected to reading and to give families a new opportunity to engage in intergenerational literacy,” says VanBeselaere. “Encouraging reading is particularly important in rural New Brunswick communities, where many experience barriers to participation in literacies programming and literacies rates remain below the national average.”
The Together Time program has expanded in two ways this year. Thanks to a partnership with Dr. Jill Rourke (biochemistry) and student Sun Min Park, the Together Time Story Sacks now have more STEAM-related (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) topics such as energy and human bodies.
"It is an honour and absolute joy to be conducting this action research with Dr. Carla VanBeselaere, our colleagues, and students from around the university, alongside community partners,” says Andrews. “We are especially grateful to Patricia Knockwood and Allison Butcher who have been sharing their expertise with us since day one, and to the elementary school educators, principals, students, and household members who are allowing us to learn from and with them."
“Having the story sacks in our school has been such an enriching and beautiful experience for our students and their families,” says Kate Fraser, Kindergarten/Grade 1 Teacher from Port Elgin Regional School. “I see each one as a gift; a curated opportunity, an invitation to gather and settle and spend time together. You can tell each one was chosen with care and passion and love. The students take pride in taking care of their story sacks and can’t wait to open them to see what is inside.”
This year the team is also launching Together Time On Campus, which sees faculty, staff, and students from across the University welcome students and educators from local elementary schools and hubs of early learning to campus for a day of engaging, hands-on, interdisciplinary learning.
In advance of National Family Literacy Day on January 27, kindergarten and first grade students from Dorchester Consolidated School successfully kicked off the program as the first group of students to spend the day at Mount A — learning with and from Rourke, Park, Dr. Kiera Galway (music), Rachel Thornton and Lucy MacDonald (Owens Art Gallery), and many students across disciplines.
Teachers Ryan Estabrooks and Heather Hunt from Dorchester Consolidated School say the on-campus experience allowed all their students to feel a sense of belonging.
"While on campus, students were able to see a future version of themselves and the type of community Mount Allison celebrates,” says Estabrooks. “The Mount A students who participated in our special day were compassionate, attentive, kind, patient and really helped make our students feel special.”
In partnership with Dr. Rachel Rubin and Laura Landon, the students received their Together Time Story Sacks in Mount Allison’s Libraries and Archives and enjoyed lunch with members of the “Food Practices and East Asian Religions” class in Jennings Dining Hall.
The Together Time program has been made possible by generous funding from the New Brunswick Innovation Fund (NBIF), the President’s Research and Creative Activities program (PRCA) at Mount Allison, CEWIL-iHub funding, as well as a Government of Canada Rising Youth Micro Grant.
VanBeselaere and Andrews look forward to continuing this research and community collaboration through to May 2024.