Literacy Program Brings Summer Enrichment to Children in Public Housing

Alumni; Community Engagement; Social Work

Early in 2015, when Kellyn Holliday, MSW ’15, began her concentration practicum at the Housing Authority of St. Louis County, she took leadership of a new initiative to address educational disparities that children from low-income families often face. Her field instructor, Executive Director Susan Rollins, envisioned a summer literacy program to serve children in public housing, and she asked Holliday to organize the effort.

“As a housing authority, we’re not just about the brick and mortar, but about the quality of life for individuals behind that brick and mortar,” Rollins says. “The vision is that every child in public housing be able to read at or above grade level, giving them the opportunity to move on to higher education without the obstacles many children run into.”

The summer literacy program Holliday designed, which has just completed its second year, has led to tremend

“In today’s society, literacy is so important, and children can fall behind so quickly,” says Holliday, a St. Louis native. “The goal of this program was to keep students active and engaged so that they learn and retain throughout the summer, so they’re not starting behind in the next school year.”

The program is open to children in pre-school to eighth grade, who attend for nine weeks during the summer. In addition to reading, students practice other academic subjects, share breakfast and lunch together and play. Some students also receive individual social-emotional support. And at the end of the summer, students take home as many books as they want.

Last summer, after the program wrapped up and children started back to school, Holliday heard from one of her youngest students. His new teacher had given the class a readiness test on vocabulary, and he knew nearly twice as many words as his fellow classmates — a result so outstanding that the teacher retested him. When the teacher asked how he had learned so many words, he responded proudly, “We read this summer!”

Holliday, who continues to manage the initiative, is now a full-time employee of the Housing Authority. She was hired as the public housing service coordinator in December 2015, as soon as she graduated from the Brown School.

Her work has been informed by her Social and Economic Development concentration and by the Brown School’s emphasis on evidence-based practice. During the program design phase, she searched the research literature to identify tested strategies that would guide her planning.

Holliday determined that the program should be free and take place on-site at Arbor Hill and High View, two of the Public Housing locations managed by the Housing Authority, so the program would be as accessible as possible. Rollins says they hope to extend the program’s reach by securing additional funding to transport children who live in other public housing locations throughout the county.

Each year Holliday conducts an extensive evaluation of the program’s areas of strength and weakness, to shape its continual evolution. The evaluation process also supports fundraising needs.

“It helps to show our funders that we are putting those dollars to work and producing results,” Holliday says. “Our funders want to know that what they are supporting makes an impact.”