By Brian Lockhart
The Flushing YWCA has developed a literacy campaign which staff hope will play a part in improving the English skills and then the lives of young and old members of the area's diverse immigrant community, particularly Asian Americans.
The name of the campaign, which was officially announced at a press conference Friday at the YWCA on Parsons Boulevard, is R.E.A.D. – Reaching the American Dream. Its three main goals are to teach English, promote reading in English and involve reading in family life through a series of events scheduled for the coming months.
“You have to learn English, you have to learn the American system to assimilate into this country, this culture and this community,” said Pauline Chu, president of the Chinese American Parents Association.
Chu was one of six panelists who attended the YWCA's news conference to comment on the need for improved English literacy amongst residents of northeast Queens, one of the world's biggest melting pots. Some panelists were YWCA staff, others were educators and all but one were Asian American.
Panelists agreed that more literacy programs were needed throughout the community to not only improve the academic test scores of bilingual students but to help all members of bilingual households assist one another in grasping everyday English language and culture.
YWCA staff members pointed to widespread concerns that rigorous new English testing standards are unfair to immigrant students and put added pressures on the newcomers. They also said statistics show that more than a third of Asian-American students in the city's public high schools fail to graduate on time and that many Asian-American households do not have a member over the age of 14 fluent in English.
“All of us grew up in a bilingual home and it's difficult to overcome,” said Roeme Rho Kim, the YWCA's director.
The R.E.A.D. campaign will officially kick off on Feb. 26 with a spelling bee for students in second through sixth grades and also a book fair for students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grades.
YWCA staff member Eun Ahn said the book fair in particular was a response to the lack of non-ethnic bookstores in the Flushing area.
“Parents and children have to go out of their way to purchase books” in English, Ahn said.
The YWCA mother's choir will also stage a benefit concert that evening, the proceeds of which will go toward the YWCA's literacy campaign.
From March 6 through 10, they YWCA will register students for an English as Second Language Class for adults.
Chu said immigrants are often criticized for not wanting to learn English, but she said some do not understand what educational resources are available to them.
“They're willing to learn English because they know once they do they can get a better job and make more money,” Chu said.
Panelist Joel Shulman, principal of PS 173 in Fresh Meadows, said children and parents of bilingual households should practice speaking English when they are not in an academic environment.
“Even a shopping trip can become a literacy program,” Shulman said.
Although a date has not been determined, the YWCA's third R.E.A.D. event will be a reading and writing workshop in April.
Finally, a youth speech competition will be held by the YWCA on May 13.