Notwithstanding the production of Welcome to Our World, the facilitation of student writing had never proven easy. It requires sustained attention among students, tutors, and staff and easily got subordinated to other important tasks. It remained subsidiary to the work of the vast majority of students who were motivated more by the dynamic flow of continuous reading that provided a sense of moving forward and completion. Still, the writing at LVGH, canonized in the publication of two more recent texts, Voices From Around the World: Essays and Reflections By Hartford's Newest Residents (Demetrion and Lestz, 1995) and a second volume of Welcome to Our World (Demetrion, 1995), flourished. A critical mass of sorts was achieved where writing was viewed as a legitimate and at times, highly desirable activity among students and tutors. Thus, the struggle to promote writing continued throughout the time frame covered in this study. Even for those who chose not to write, LVGH’s student generated texts provided a literature rich base to explore literacy as a meaning-making phenomenon grounded in a range of life experiences to which adult new readers resonated with a high degree of empathy. Establishing such a learning climate was an important component of the Reading Center model, enabling the metaphor of literacy to resonate throughout its created products.
The Oral History Project
The creation of oral history texts that LVGH developed in collaboration with Trinity College of Hartford through a Connecticut Humanities Council (CHC) grant was, arguably, the most important single project during the first decade of the Bob Steele Reading Center. These texts consist of two types of books. The first is a one volume abridged collection of ten life histories for the intermediate literacy student (Smith, Ball, Demetrion, and Michelson, 1993). The second is a two-volume set consisting of thirteen unabridged oral histories for the general reader including advanced literacy student (Lestz, Demetrion, and Smith, 1994). They cover broad life themes spanning the life cycle of LVGH Basic Literacy students, culminating in the decision to enter the program. A stimulating introduction and conclusion by a professional historian framed the advanced text while the abridged text’s introduction, written by Sharon Smith, who was a Ph.D. student in Reading, Writing, and Literacy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, focuses on pedagogy. For the purposes of this essay essay, I emphasize the evolution of the project in order to disclose something of the force field that enabled it to emerge within the context of our organizational culture, although by way of passing it will not be possible to avoid mention of its content.
In its broad contours this project followed similar evolutionary trajectories of the organization development of the Center, the small group-tutoring program, and the program’s various writing projects. That is, an idea was nurtured within the context of what seemed plausible within the opportunity structures of the program in the early 1990s. Prospects for its development were pursued until time and circumstances enabled the project to come to fruition in the creation of polished oral history texts.
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