A delegation of officials from the American Embassy in Nassau led by Deputy Chief of Mission, Mr. David S. Elmo met with the Minister of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture, the Honourable Carl Bethel and Minister of State for Youth and Sports and other senior officials at the Ministry to discuss the next phase of the reading and literacy project started by former Ambassador Mr. John Rood at the Woodcock Primary School. Mr. Elmo who was representing current ambassador Mr. Ned Siegel, who was unable to attend the meeting, stated that the Embassy was thrilled to partner with the Ministry in this initiative.

Also in attendance at the meeting were Mrs. Elma Garraway, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, and, Mr. Lionel Sands, Acting Director of Education, Mrs. Katherine Stewart-Gibson, Public Affairs Specialist; US Embassy; Elizabeth Hirsh, Senior Vice President, Volunteer USA, Ms. Liza McFadden, President, Volunteer USA and Ms. Wendy Grant, US Embassy.

The Deputy Chief of Mission revealed that the programme established at the Woodcock Primary School is modeled after a successful programme that exists in the state of Florida. In the case of Woodcock Primary, volunteers read to, and engage children in reading for one and a half hours three times a week at the school. He stated that officials of the United States Embassy’s would wish to establish a self-sustaining comprehensive plan that expands the Ambassador’s current reading programme into a national reading and mentoring initiative for primary schools in The Bahamas.

Minister Bethel thanked the officials for their offer of assistance stating that there have been many attempts over the years to address problems of ‘gangesterism’, functional illiteracy and unemployed youth in The Bahamas. He added that any programme that would be implemented would have to be modified to ensure that it has Bahamian content, and is relevant to our society. The Minister said that this will guarantee a greater level of sustainability of the project.

Mrs. Katherine Stewart-Gibson, Public Affairs Specialist at the Embassy revealed that the Woodcock Primary School Reading Programme exhibited some realistic successes. She stated that according to the school’s principal, it improved reading levels and scores within the school. Students were also exposed to celebrity readers such as Olympic Gold Medalist Debbie Ferguson; world renowned actor, Sean Connery, business professionals and Permanent Secretaries from various ministries.

Mrs. Elma Garraway, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry Education noted that the initiative has elements of the, ‘Let’s Read Bahamas’, which was a national thrust to encourage Bahamians to read. One of the most significant achievements of that programme was the National Literacy Unit which continues to promote adult literacy in The Bahamas. Mrs. Garraway said that going forward; it would be beneficial if the new initiative could include some of the best practices of the ‘Let’s Read Bahamas Programme’.

The next step for Embassy and Ministry of Education Officials is to form a committee that will work towards establishing the programme in all primary schools for the 2008/2009 school year. The new programme will be focus on involving more mentors from the local community, family literacy and support from the business community.