Hands’ Early Pages Programme Launches for Students in the Eastern Caribbean

Hands’ Early Pages Programme Launches for Students in the Eastern Caribbean

We are excited to officially announce the Hands Across the Sea Early Pages Programme. After 3 years of piloting in Grenada and a soft-launch in Nevis, we are proud to share with our global community of friends, partners, educators, families, and supporters the first Universal Emergent Literacy program designed with and for students in the Eastern Caribbean.

For 2 focused years, Hands Across the Sea worked in 9 schools in Grenada. The program kicked off with strategy and planning meetings between the outgoing Early Childhood Director Mrs. Susan Parke, the incoming director Dr. Charmaine Christopher, Hands Director Amanda Sherlip, and Hands Grenada Literacy Links Mrs. Bernadette John and Mrs. Gloria Bonaparte. The idea was simple: To reach the youngest learners through research-based literacy materials so they could have a solid foundation for educational and life success. This goal is achieved through 3 intentional actions:

  • Integrating literacy as an explicit aspect of the preschool environment
  • Increasing parental engagement
  • Building awareness and community participation in early childhood literacy
Children Apples | Hands Across the Sea

Setting a foundation for life-long learning

Why is preschool literacy so vital? Early literacy sets the foundation for a child’s lifelong learning and academic success by assisting with:

  • Brain Development: Early literacy activities such as reading, singing, and talking to young children can stimulate brain development and help build neural pathways that support cognitive development.
  • Language Development: Exposure to books and other literacy materials can help children develop their language skills, including vocabulary, grammar, and comprehension.
  • Academic Success: Children who start school with strong early literacy skills are more likely to succeed academically and continue to have positive attitudes toward learning.
  • Social Skills: Early literacy activities can also help children develop important social skills, such as listening, following directions, and taking turns.
  • Emotional Development: Reading and other literacy activities can help children understand their emotions and develop empathy for others.

Established through the generosity of Sandals Foundation

In late 2022, Hands Across the Sea was awarded a generous grant from the Sandals Foundation in full support of the creation of a program manual that would capture the Early Pages Programme framework.
Sandals Foundation | Hands Across the Sea
The program set out in 2020 with this document in mind, and over the course of the 2-year pilot, Hands worked with the 9 partner schools in Grenada to utilize and refine Hands-created Action Plans, which were designed to support Ministry-defined education goals and early childhood developmental markers. The vision for the manual was to create a fundamental resource that would empower preschool teachers and Early Childhood Units throughout the Caribbean to launch a sustainable literacy program within their school. A third year of the initiative focused on a replication of the program with a soft-launch in the 11 preschools across the island of Nevis in the country of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Hands Director Amanda Sherlip and Nevis Literacy Link Mrs. Palsy Wilkin visited with the Director of Education Ms. Zahnela Claxton and the ECE Unit headed by Ms. Dawnny Lanns in April 2023 to do an island-wide site visit. They received a presentation from the DOE on the early impact of the program. In Nevis, enthusiasm for the program was high, and the request for a programmatic guidebook came just as we were nearing the completion of the manual. The Sandals Foundation’s trust in our vision and funding was instrumental in the launch of the Early Pages Programme. Through their grant, Hands was able to collect and analyze materials from pilot schools and build and envision frameworks with our curriculum and graphic teams. We were able to write, design, and print enough copies to provide a manual to every preschool, Early Childhood Unit, Ministry, and Literacy Link in each of the 6 countries where Hands is currently operating.

A resource for early childhood leaders

Furthermore, Hands Director Amanda Sherlip has been invited to attend and present on the Early Pages Programme at the UNICEF-funded Annual Meeting of Early Childhood Leaders, which is hosted by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). The conference is scheduled for late October 2024 and will bring together top representatives from Ministries of Education and Early Childhood Units alongside global philanthropic and corporate partners working in areas of education policy reform, social welfare, and community development throughout the Caribbean.

What makes this program unique

The Early Pages Programme is a research-informed approach to early childhood literacy, developed directly in and with the communities served. The program honors what is unique and preciously embedded within schools throughout the West Indies, which is a divergence from many globally scaled emergent literacy programs. While there are many gems available in globally scaled programs, our grassroots initiatives lean into local culture and context so that the programmatic frameworks have the greatest chance of long-term success and sustainability through ownership and ongoing implementation by leaders from within the community. We believe everyone wins when we blend a research-informed approach with local culture. And we believe this is one of the many reasons why the Early Pages Programme has already exceeded our expectations.
Selfmade books Hands Across the Sea

Resources that engage teachers and students

This year, 66 preschools will be outfitted with an engaging children’s library that will serve for years to come. The books selected cover a range of age- and- socially-appropriate books that are topically relevant, interesting, educational, and supportive of both social and emotional development as well as school-subject preparation. The collection includes bright and durable board books, 7 Big Books for group initiatives and guided-reading, and matching sets of softback books to help facilitate independent reading, small groups, and at-home/family learning. Each school will receive a printed Early Pages Programme Manual and will receive a composition notebook to support their lending logs for families looking to borrow books. The Early Pages Programme framework leverages anchor texts and provides lived-examples of how to use literacy to help students achieve developmental markers, curriculum requirements, and classroom goals that will not only ready students with speaking, writing, vocabulary, and comprehension skills for kindergarten, but also help them to develop vital soft skills such as self-reflection, self-regulation, ideation, communication, and critical thinking. The manual includes Action Plans, photos, and narratives spread across a series of pedagogical units, which have been meticulously written and designed to provide visual and content support to educators. The manual also provides a checklist for how to start a literacy program , and includes a unit dedicated to parental and community engagement, including a parent agreement that preschools may want to provide to parents and caregivers.

What teachers say about new libraries available through Hands

Teachers have been pleased with the results of this programme so far and the books and materials we can provide. Recently, Hands Across the Sea helped set up a library at Windsor Forest Preschool in Grenada. Staff at the school worked together to prepare for the books to come, including painting the floor, doing construction, and painting the bookshelf. Here’s what Galine Andrews, one of the preschool teachers, had to say about the new library:

Teacher Hands Across the Sea
“Hands acted as the midwife through their kind and generous donation of books and resource materials. One can only imagine what a joy it was to see how happy the children were when they were introduced to the area. Every day after lunch they look forward to going into the area to read their favorite books. Sometimes they choose books and ask their teacher to read to them. They are able to associate and make connections from books to their favorite YouTube videos like Pepper Pig, Dr. Seuss, and much more. 
Teachers also used the books and resource materials to aid in the teaching of the curriculum during small group, large group and Plan-Do-Review time. Parents were also impressed with what they saw. This was the exact words of a parent: ‘No wonder why Jaydon wants to make me crazy to read to him, so nice.’ It was indeed a kind gesture by our partners at Hands Across the Sea. We will forever be grateful. Thank you so much.”

Parents are thrilled

As young students engage with reading, their parents get more involved in their children’s learning as noted in Jaydon’s parent’s comment above. Anita Benjamin, mom of Giovanni Dottin who attends the River View Preschool in Grenada, had this to say:
“I must admit that these stories played an important role in my child’s development. He learns manners, educational and literacy knowledge, and skills through laughter. As a parent, I would like to say a special thank you to the Hands Across the Sea organization for allowing the school and … parents to help improve our children’s cognitive, physical, social, creative, and emotional abilities. I will take this with me as my son moves on to primary school: ‘Reading is the key to take you where you want to be.’ Thank you and may God bless you!!!!”

Special thanks to the Sandals Foundation

We extend our sincerest gratitude to the Sandals Foundation, without whom this document, and therefore the scaling of this program, would not be possible. The Sandals Foundation was an early partner in the pilot through their support of the inaugural Literacy Extravaganza in Grenada during the 2020-21 school year. The Foundation has remained a partner in our vision and on this journey. Through their generosity, we were able to fully fund the creation of this manual, which will become a vital resource in scaling this emergent literacy program across the Eastern Caribbean. More than 15,000 children each year will have the opportunity to develop life-changing skills through library and literacy initiatives in their preschool with the implementation of the Early Pages Programme. We give our deepest thanks to everyone involved.

View and Download the Early Pages Programme

The nearly 50-page manual is an open-access resource that is now immediately available for anyone to download:

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