Literacy levels at schools are set to rise with a powerful partnership that was launched at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) last week.The School Leadership Forum based in Pinelands, which was formerly known as the Community of Learning Principals, will be supporting the initiative of a former Athlone school principal who started a project to improve literacy at schools.Jeff Paulse used to be the principal at Athlone North Primary but when he retired he wanted to continue with his passion for education.On Thursday 28 July principals from schools in the Western Cape and partners in the School Leadership Forum met at UWC where Paulse explained the motivation behind his passion.“I’ve realised that literacy is a major problem in our schools and wanted to do something about it,” he explains.“In 2013 I started working on the programme from scratch and the next year we launched Reading and Writing Solutions.“But, the big difference with this programme is that it not only empowers the learner but it empowers the volunteers and eventually it works its way across the whole community.”Samantha Faure, who started the reading programme with Paulse, gave a presentation of how the project was changing lives and empowering people and encouraged principals to call on them for their services.“We initially called on the public in the Athlone area to assist as reading volunteers at the schools where learners experience difficulty with reading,” she says.“With limited resources and with a few extremely committed and enthusiastic volunteers we started at Athlone North Primary with the main aims of promoting reading as the centre of any learning process and contribute towards the improvement of literacy performance of learners.“Since then it has grown phenomenally with the volunteers and learners benefitting from a development of the communication skills, self-confidence and self-esteem.“Currently we work at five primary schools in the Athlone community with a total of 60 volunteer reading tutors, which were recruited from the community. “The volunteers include, among others, mothers, ex-teachers, ex-librarians, graduate students, businessmen and retired educationists.”Paulse says reading tutor volunteers are required to do a three day compulsory training workshop before starting at the schools. “The intention of the training workshop is to equip the volunteers with the necessary skills and tools to deliver on the intended outcome of the reading programme,” he says.“Some of the objectives of the workshop include to instil and encourage positive thinking; how to use visual media to prompt creativity; communication and insight; the power of words, and how to use them effectively during reading sessions, and effective listening skills.”Paulse encouraged the attendees to go out into their communities to find the volunteers who can make a difference at their schools.“You know if you’ve got a problem with children struggling to read at your school. We know the problems that teachers face but today you know that there is a solution.“The programme encourages reading as a powerful tool to bring about change and is seen as one way to address the many challenges faced by communities daily.“Our belief is that all children deserve the opportunity to learn to use reading, writing and storytelling, meaningfully.”One of the volunteers, Gwen Adams, shared her experiences with a success story of how one of her shy learners is empowered.“One of my first learners was a boy who spoke in whispers and was very shy,” she says.“Eventually I found out that he stuttered and started working with him more intensely. I am proud to say that last year I was proud when he delivered the valedictory address at his school.”Paulse says this is only one of the many success stories, yet the programme is not funded and relies on donations and sponsorships.“For the business partners here, keep us in mind when you want assist and add value to the literacy development of the learners, or if you would like to consider being a partner in this important initiative.”Samantha Davids from the SLF commented that their aim is to continue to improve and grow the forum, so that principals, teachers and the larger education community, can all benefit and become more empowered in their daily roles. “Good standards of literacy continues to be a huge challenge and that is why we invited this organisation to this event,” she says.“With schools at the centre of our communities, we take a look at a literacy improvement model that puts communities at the centre of reading and writing in schools.”For more information about the programme Paulse can be contacted on 082 216 2460 or Samantha Faure on 076 368 7898, or email email@example.com.