Leading a ‘reading revolution’ all in a day’s work for Alumni Honour Award winner

Steacy Collyer (‘85 BEd) has some advice for new teachers embarking on careers in the age of ubiquitous digital devices.

“Please keep reading books,” said Collyer, whose dedication to promoting early literacy in Alberta has earned her a 2019 University of Alberta Alumni Honour Award.

“As a teacher, you are a role model for children, and if a teacher does not read and cannot recommend a just-right book at the right time for a struggling reader, that child will have difficulty. So please, next generation of educators, remember to read yourself, and never lose sight of how important a daily read-aloud is in your classroom.”

Collyer’s love of books started early in life and she enrolled in the Elementary Education program at the U of A with the conviction that reading sparks a lifetime of learning. After teaching in several Edmonton schools, she relocated to Calgary where she moved into educational consulting. She says that visiting hundreds of classrooms across the province as a consultant led to some insights—and an inspiration.

“I came to realize all schools have volunteers, but not all schools understand how to leverage volunteers to have student impact,” Collyer recalled. “I thought that if we actually trained volunteers to go into schools and support struggling young readers, everybody would be better off. It would be easier for teachers to have more volunteers, and it would be easier for children because the volunteers would be more skilled at what they needed to do to help.”

Instilling a love of reading for pleasure and purpose

Equipped with evidence-based reading interventions and a pool of willing volunteers, Collyer began training tutors to assist young readers in Grade 1 to 3 classrooms during a crucial period in their development. What started at one school in Calgary spread to a hundred and turned into the non-profit organization. Calgary Reads now oversees more than 20 school- and community-based programs to support early literacy education, and has spawned the Alberta Reads Network, with a presence in 150 schools across the province.

But, Collyer adds, research has shown that the time before children reach school age is critical in turning them into successful readers and her organization has expanded its focus to include the formative years before a child ever sets foot in a classroom. Initiatives range from partnering with public health organizations to deliver reading home-visits, to operating books banks, little libraries and the Children’s Reading Place, a house in Calgary’s Inglewood neighbourhood where young patrons are invited to take books home with them to start their own collections. Collyer says owning books makes children more likely to borrow books from libraries, which improves their chances of reading at grade level in the crucial early years of school.

“Alberta Reads revolves around creating a literacy movement across the province inspiring all kinds of people in all kinds of places to read with children,” Collyer said. “Parents need to be engaged in the act of reading far more and understand that reading can’t be the sole responsibility of schools. It takes a village to raise a reader, we like to say.”

Research also shows that early proficiency in reading for pleasure and purpose is an indicator of later success in school and beyond and, while there are no guarantees, Collyer says it seems to have worked for her.

“I grew up in a house with books and all those formative years have ended up with me being incredibly blessed to find what I’m really passionate about and be able to make a big difference by going on to create Calgary Reads and I have an amazing network of people that have helped make it happen over 20 years,” Collyer said.

“I like to say we are leading a reading revolution—not everybody gets to say that’s their job.”

You are invited to see Steacy Collyer accept this honor at the Alumni Awards ceremony on Sept. 19 at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. Reserve your free ticket: https://www.ualberta.ca/alumni/events/alumni-awards