Penn State opens family literacy program in Williamsport

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State's Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy has partnered with STEP Inc. to provide a new education program to needy families in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

"Williamsport is a high poverty area, more than double than that of the entire state, and 14 percent of the population do not have a high school diploma," said Carol Clymer, co-director of the Goodling Institute, a research institute in Penn State's College of Education.

The program, known as Family Pathways, is a family literacy program that provides educational services to parents or caregivers over the age of 17 who have an educational need and have a child who is in third grade or younger.

"The program follows a unique four-component model," Clymer said. "Family literacy is an intergenerational education approach and the components are integrated to serve the whole family unit."

The components include providing adult education training to help parents and caregivers find economic self-sufficiency, as well as training for parents to be the primary teacher in their children's lives. Parents and children also participate together in interactive literacy activities and children receive early childhood education services to set them up for success when entering school.

STEP Inc., a nonprofit community action agency that serves Lycoming and Clinton counties, will provide the early childhood education classes to children through their Head Start program. Penn State's Goodling Institute will provide the adult education, parent training and interactive literacy classes. All classes are offered at STEP Inc.'s Round Hills campus.

"In March, the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Division of Adult Education released a Request for Grant Application," Clymer said. "This was an ideal opportunity for us to identify a partner in Williamsport who could provide early childhood education services for the family literacy program we wanted to develop."

The median annual income in Williamsport, with a population of around 29,000, is approximately $39,000 — nearly $17,000 less than the median income for Pennsylvania, Clymer said. Nineteen percent of STEP parents do not have a high school diploma, and 74 percent of primary caregivers are either unemployed or work part-time jobs.

"The family literacy program is designed to help parents earn their Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma or build their basic reading, writing and math skills, and prepare them for employment or transition to postsecondary education," she said. "It also will help build parenting skills and provide interactive learning opportunities to help families — both parents and children — increase their educational levels."

Family Pathways is funded by a three-year Pennsylvania Department of Education grant, which provides $150,000 per year and allows the Goodling Institute to provide services to 30 families. Classes started in September and are free for participants. The program also can provide financial assistance for child care and testing, and can provide bus passes to help families who do not have access to transportation.

"This program is needed in this community," Clymer said. "Twenty-seven percent of the residents live in poverty, and 53 percent of Lycoming County residents with children under the age of 18 receive food stamps." STEP Head Start reports that 56 percent of its families live in poverty, she said, which is double the rate for Williamsport and quadruple the statewide rate.

"It is very important that the Goodling Institute received this grant," Clymer said. "It will not only help Penn State to provide a critically important educational service to families in Williamsport, it also will allow us to build best practices for programming as we learn about which instructional strategies and activities are effective and which are not."

Individuals interested in learning more about the Family Pathways program, including information on how to participate, should contact Ruth Love-Schooley, Family Pathways coordinator, at or 570-601-5936.

Last Updated November 21, 2017