A Talk/Read/Succeed! success story

The Hernandez family — Daniel and Natasha with children Sergio, Kissandra, Xyomara, Daniel and Jordan.

The Hernandez family — Daniel and Natasha with children Sergio, Kissandra, Xyomara, Daniel and Jordan.

It didn’t take long for the Hernandez family to connect with Talk/Read/Succeed! once they heard about it.

That was in 2010, shortly after they moved to Springfield Housing Authority’s Sullivan Apartments, when Daniel and Natasha Hernandez and their five young children attended the annual ‘Back to School’ outdoor extravaganza sponsored by T/R/S! The collaborative program has a focus on early and family literacy.

T/R/S! Outreach Coordinator Lynne Cimino told them about the other programs coming up – family gatherings featuring art projects, reading, author visits, events aimed at helping parents focus on early literacy, even a Job Club for out-of-work adults – and both Daniel and Natasha were in.

“We knew we were interested, so we went to a few of the programs to check it out,” Daniel explained. “Everything we did, we liked. So did the kids.”

Natasha added, “There’s so much for the family. The kids loved it because they always have fun things to do, and there’s so much interaction with other kids and families.”

The Hernandez family has grown into something of a poster child for the T/R/S! program, having mastered the four founding pillars of the collaborative program – parent engagement, parent education, child education and family self-sufficiency.

A few key pieces of evidence: The five Hernandez children, Sergio, 15, Kissandra, 11, Xyomara, 9, Jordyn, 7 and Daniel, 6, are voracious readers and solid students. Natasha, unemployed when they began participating, is now working full-time in a local office. And perhaps most exciting, Daniel the father recently took, and passed, his certification test for paraprofessionals and is now employed, also full-time, in a classroom at Boland Elementary School.

“I love it,” he said. “I love the kids, I love the work. I’m learning so much.”

T/R/S! began in 2010, a collaboration of some two dozen local groups, organizations and agencies with a start-up grant and a shared vision of reading proficiency among young children by the end of grade three. The target group is families at Sullivan and Robinson Gardens Apartments, and their feeder elementary schools, Boland and Dorman.

But T/R/S! sets its sights on entire families, with the philosophy that literacy is important for all, and is in fact contagious with the right blend of support, programs and family enthusiasm. All indicators, particularly with the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative program as pre- and post-reading tests are given, show the program to be overwhelmingly successful.

With partners including the SHA, the Springfield School Department, the Springfield Education Association, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, the Behavioral Health Network, Baystate Medical Center, T/R/S! is on a path to succeed.

Those involved say the solid foundation of the program, and ongoing outreach and programming, are key.

“Talk/Read/Succeed! works because it’s a model that reaches out to entire families. The goal is early literacy, but it’s also, ultimately, financial independence,” said SHA Executive Director William H. Abrashkin.

In the case of the Hernandez family, the process was gradual and felt like a natural progression.

Arriving from Long Island to Western Massachusetts seven years ago, they got their four-bedroom apartment at Sullivan one year later. Both were out of work, but determined to make good things happen for themselves, and their families. They began participating in T/R/S! events and services as soon as they heard about the program.

T/R/S! opened doors for them, particularly with family activities that helped them get to know their neighbors. Both Daniel and Natasha have also stayed active at Boland Elementary School, where they have stayed in close touch with teachers, and have volunteered regularly. Both give their time on the ‘Walking School Bus’ that travels en masse on foot from Sullivan to Boland every morning, and back home in the afternoon.

In 2012, Natasha completed coursework and passed tests for her high school equivalency and launched her quest for employment, which was long her goal. Daniel found volunteer work at Boland, even as he hunted for a job.

Natasha now works as a clerk at Springfield Housing Authority, at a development close enough to walk to. Daniel is now in a classroom at Boland, where all of their children have gone and their youngest two are still in attendance. The older children are now at STEM Middle Academy and the High School of Science and Technology, where all are succeeding.