Former teacher spearheading new literacy campaign

DANVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Elaine Wilson-Reddy of Danville has weaved in and out of education much of her adult life, now spearheading an early literacy campaign for children and families.

A native of Macon, Georgia, Wilson-Reddy made her way to Kentucky about 22 years ago with her now-ex-husband. She taught middle and high school band in Grant County, Garrard County and Danville Independent.

“After 16 years of teaching, I just decided it had changed too much. I was having to compromise what I believed too much,” Wilson-Reddy said.

She stepped away for a while, and she and her husband moved to Tampa, Florida. Wilson-Reddy worked with non-profit organizations both there and back in Kentucky when they returned.

“So many people helped me as I was growing up and going through school. As an adult, I have always felt that it was my responsibility to give back,” she said. “I did that as a teacher, and non-profit was a way for me to continue doing that.”

When the couple returned to Kentucky about 10 years ago, Wilson-Reddy began pursuing her principal certification. Eventually, she was divorced.

“I found myself trying to figure out what it was that I truly wanted to do,” she said. “I thought, ‘I can literally do anything anywhere, what is that going to be?’

“I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer. When I was in high school, I didn’t think I was smart enough to get in.”

She finally decided to try, though. “I figured, if I get in, we’ll go from there and if I don’t get in, then I’ll have to figure something else out.

“I was accepted, which completely blew me away.”

Wilson-Reddy took a two-year accelerated program at Dayton School of Law. She graduated last year and has taken the bar exam but won’t learn her results until Sept. 25.

In the meantime, she’s working as the church administrator at Trinity Episcopal Church in Danville, which she says “is just a ton of fun.”

She’s also gotten remarried, to Kevin Caudill, and gained three “bonus” daughters, Emily McGregor, Jessica Oliver and Grace Caudill.

“They’re all awesome,” she said with a smile. “And three dogs and three cats — that’s our life.”

Wilson-Reddy plans to work in family law, helping with adoption, divorce and other family situations; education law, as an attorney for school boards, teachers or parents; and elder law, helping people navigate Medicare, Medicaid, nursing home care, and dealing with assets, wills and trusts.

The other major project Wilson-Reddy is working on is close to her heart, an early literacy intervention program named The Gladys Project after her mother and grandmother.

“We will work with parents and caregivers of infants, toddlers and young children to teach the adult caregivers how to interact, give critical experiences and read to their youngsters,” she said.

Critical experiences include things like a child hearing people talk to them or with them about colors, letters, numbers and small words like cat and dog. It also includes teaching the children to sit still and quiet while reading.

“We know that their critical years are through third grade. By the time they hit kindergarten, they are already 5. So that’s five years that they don’t have those critical experiences,” Wilson-Reddy said. “Those are all learned skills. Right now, children are coming to school without those skills, for whatever reason.”

“The goal is, by the time that youngster begins preschool or kindergarten, we will have closed much of that ‘gap’ that everyone in education is talking about, so that they are not as far behind when they begin.”

It came about from an experience Wilson-Reddy had while substitute teaching in a kindergarten class about 10 years ago.

The teacher told her some of the students wouldn’t be able to hold the pencil, which Wilson-Reddy found hard to believe but learned was the truth. Many of the students didn’t know how to hold a pencil and couldn’t begin to write their own names.

“For 10 years, that experience was just rolling around in my brain. Then, last summer, I volunteered for the reading camp at Trinity Episcopal Church. My job was to sit with children individually and let them read a book to me, any book they wanted to,” Wilson-Reddy said. “These precious children were coming up to me and more often than not, they said to me, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t read very well.’

“It just stabbed me in the heart.”

The two ideas began rolling together in her mind, and she began doing research on early learning. One day, Wilson-Reddy said, she realized what needs to be done.

“And I’m sure I’ve had conversations with people who have talked about this, and I’m sure that I must have read articles — I’m not saying that this was completely me. But, when I put it together, I called some people that I trust and ran it by them,” she said.

All of the women she called, five educators or former educators, liked the idea. They began meeting and working on how to do it.

They wanted to remove as many barriers to learning as possible, such as the location. They also wanted to make sure all the volunteers were able to go in without judgment and meet the families where they were in their skills.

The Gladys Project was able to obtain a grant from the Hudson-Ellis Foundation, was given monetary donations from The Presbyterian Church of Danville, a computer from another donor, a printer from Danville Office Equipment, furniture from Farmers National Bank and more.

The Housing Authority of Danville is currently renovating one of the buildings on Crescent Drive, which will be the home of both The Gladys Project and a local branch of Greenhouse 17, an organization that helps women and children who are victims of domestic violence.

On Tuesday, she went to sign the paperwork, starting the process to make The Gladys Project a 501c3 organization.

“Everything that’s been happening is nothing from me. Literally, all it is is this idea and people in the community realizing how critical it is,” she said.

It will likely be October or November before the doors will be open to receive the first three or four families.

“When they come, we want to do it right and not make them feel like they are guinea pigs. That’s not at all what we want anyone to feel like, not volunteers, not families, anyone.”

Ultimately, she said, they want the families to take on the project themselves, including a board consisting of families who have been positively impacted.

Wilson-Reddy said she struggled with a name at first.

“I came up with the program first, but I couldn’t come up with a name for it. I thought, ‘How can I do this and give it some real meaning,'” she said. Then, it hit her. “I named it The Gladys Project to honor two amazing moms who had an impact on my life. Hopefully, it will have a similar impact on the people we work with.”

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Information from: The (Danville, Ky.) Advocate-Messenger, http://www.centralkynews.com/amnews

 

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