Gifts To Our Community: Decode Project
When LaToya Whitlock realized that most behavioral problems happened because of lack of reading skills, she and some colleagues started Decode Project.
A Path to Reading Literacy
Reading is complicated. If we could look into the brains of early readers and see the processes that happen when deriving meaning from letters, we’d be astounded. Not every child has the same access or exposure to words and books from infancy, and not every child’s parents can afford tutoring or testing to see where reading deficits may be occurring and remedy them.
As a counselor in a small local school, LaToya Whitlock began to see students referred to her for behavioral issues that weren’t really behavioral issues. “Most of them weren’t able to read, and they would avoid the classroom,” she says. Out of desperation, LaToya began using her time with students to teach them structured literacy and saw quick, positive results. When the school wasn’t ready to commit to the literacy program, LaToya and some of her colleagues decided to go on their own and create Decode Project.
LaToya Whitlock says, “OUR GOAL IS TO IMPROVE THEIR READING SCORE, BUT THEN ALSO TO HAVE THEM FEEL LIKE THEY BELONG IN SCHOOL AND THAT THEY’RE CAPABLE.”
Decode Project uses explicitly trained and paid mentors to help ensure children at risk of functional illiteracy get the help they need so they can read at grade level. The nonprofit has partnered with the University of Louisville’s honors program to find motivated college students who will become mentors. The 12 hours of training they receive includes not only structured literacy but also anti-racist, anti-bias, and resiliency instruction.
Before the pandemic, literacy mentors had been going into schools and after-school programs including the St. Vincent de Paul Learning Center, but they’ve had to switch to all online instruction. “We’ve made a five-year transition in about five and a half months,” LaToya says. Decode Project now has an office in the Portland neighborhood where parents and caregivers can access the curriculum that literacy mentors use. While they won’t get the one-on-one instruction this way, LaToya and her team can walk them through the program and provide support.
“Our goal is to improve their reading score, but then also to have them feel like they belong in school and that they’re capable,” LaToya says. There is always a waitlist of students, so every grant or donation Decode Project receives helps the nonprofit ensure students who need to improve their reading get the help they deserve.
Decode Project is located at 2509 Portland Avenue in Louisville.