Lifting Up Literacy in Urban Catholic Schools

naFour years ago, Sister Barbara Bray and Linda Basman, superintendent and assistant superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Oakland, respectively, came to Saint Mary’s requesting help for elementary students struggling with reading and writing. A collaborative team at the Kalmanovitz School of Education jumped into action and by fall term a few months later, a literacy coaching program for teachers called LIFT UP! was rolled out in three urban Catholic schools in Oakland.


“We are building the skills of teachers so that they feel empowered and can instill that can-do spirit in their students,” said Kathy Perez, director of outreach and professional development at the KSOE who inspired the acronym LIFT UP!— Literacy Innovations For Teachers: Urban Partnership.


Through LIFT UP!, highly trained literacy coaches— all affiliated with Saint Mary’s as graduates, faculty members or advisors—keep teachers up-to-date on the most current teaching strategies through in-class demonstrations, coaching, observations and professional development. They also assist teachers with ongoing assessments of their students.


“We are one of very few programs, if not the only one, that provides consistent support for teachers on a weekly and biweekly basis throughout the school year,” said Mary Dierking, lead coach and liaison to Catholic schools who has helped train close to 30 teachers since the program’s inception.


LIFT UP! is getting a lot of buzz in local education circles after a recent Public Profit study of test scores in East Bay urban schools found that students involved in the LIFT UP! literacy program “were three times more likely to be at or above grade level in language than their peers.”


This groundbreaking literacy initiative now serves five urban Catholic schools in grades K-3— schools in Richmond and Union City were added this year. Perez hopes that next year they will be able to extend LIFT UP! to fourth and fifth grades, too.


Community outreach is an important way for Saint Mary’s to walk the walk, said Perez. “To thrive and live our Lasallian mission of serving others, we have to go beyond the campus ... and reach out to those less fortunate than ourselves.”