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A Look at Literacy: Mighty Writers El Futuro

The Afterschool Alliance, in partnership with Dollar General Literacy Foundation, recently honored Mighty Writers El Futuro for the program's demonstrated excellence in helping develop English Language Learner students' literacy skills.

Mighty Writers El Futuro—an afterschool program serving students in Philaedlphia, Pennsylvania—builds students' literary skills and celebrates their cultural identities.

Madeline Karp, Program Director of Mighty Writers El Futuro, offers an inside look at the program's work.

How many English Language Learner students does Mighty Writers El Futuro serve, and from what backgrounds?

Between 95 and 100 percent of the students served at Mighty Writers El Futuro are classified as ELL students by their schools. In most cases, our families speak Spanish in the home, and have at least one member who is an immigrant to the United States. The vast majority of our students' families hail from the Mexican state of Puebla. We also serve families from other regions of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Colombia.

What specific challenges do your ELL students face?

Many of our students attend under-resourced public schools, and their families do not consistently receive the translation services they need to feel successful. It is very common for our students to act as translators for their parents, or for Mighty Writers staff to serve as liaisons between home and school. Questions are sometimes as small as asking for clarification on a homework assignment, or as large as translating during parent-teacher conferences.

How does your program celebrate your students' cultural identities, and why is this important?

Our programs intentionally celebrate our students' immigrant identities and their Latino culture and heritage. Our curriculum focuses on being culturally responsive—in every project, we work to affirm the value of our students' cultural identities. We offer bilingual workshops, decorate our space to reflect our students' varied interests, and fill our curriculum with books, movies and music from authors and artists who reflect our students' cultures.

In what ways does Mighty Writers engage with parents and families?

Mighty Writers El Futuro maintains an open-door policy. At the request of our community, we keep our workshop age ranges wide to allow full families and siblings to register for programming together. We encourage parents to join us as volunteers and field trip chaperones, and always consider any requests from our families when planning workshop topics and themes. Additionally, we check in with our families regularly via personal e-mails and phone calls before, during and after programming.

How does your program engage students in literacy—especially among students who are reluctant readers and writers?

At the heart of Mighty Writers, we are a literacy-based educational nonprofit. Our mission is to teach kids to think and write with clarity to ensure success at home, at school, at work and in life. We draw students in by designing programs that specifically reflect their interests. So many of our students enjoy drawing comics, so we have comic book creation workshops to bring out their inner writers. Similarly, a reluctant reader who is musically inclined may be asked to read and analyze song lyrics. Our goal is to have students use their interests as an avenue to explore reading and writing, thereby creating a positive association with literacy.

What does it mean for your program to be recognized by the Dollar General Afterschool Literacy Foundation and the Afterschool Alliance? How will this help your program?

All Mighty Writers programs are free of charge to our families. To receive the Dollar General Afterschool Literacy Award funds means that they can stay that way. Our afterschool Academy, writing workshops, college prep, mentorships, toddlers program and more can remain free and accessible to the kids of Philadelphia through the generous support we receive—and we are incredibly grateful. In addition to programs, this support enables us to provide our families with more access to resources like bilingual books, computers and school supplies.