SHARP Literacy program makes difference at no cost to Milwaukee schools

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by Nate Kuester

MILWAUKEE, WI -- A local program is making a significant impact in area schools in some of the toughest areas of the city.

It is likely you have never heard of the SHARP Literacy program. But mention it to one of the students benefitting from it, and you will probably catch a smile and notice the child stands a little taller. That is all thanks to the extra support they receive from SHARP.

"I've seen non-readers want to read," said Blessed Sacrament School second grade teacher Litza Janowski. "I've seen non-writers want to write. Tell a child they can be an author, and watch 'em smile."

SHARP provides materials to students at no cost throughout the school year, that those students then use to create a book that is published. It features the work they put into their studies. And there is another take away the children in the Spanish-speaking communities benefit from.

"Proud, so I can teach my family," 5th grade Blessed Sacrament student Melvin Zamudia told CBS 58.

"It's exciting, so I can teach my family. I teach my little cousin and my grandma," echoed 5th grade Blessed Sacrament student Natalie Cardenas.

"I like to be the teacher at home," said 3rd grade Blessed Sacrament student Luis Cervantes.

Blessed Sacrament School Second grade teacher Litza Janowski has worked with SHARP in the classroom for nearly two decades. She has seen the far-reaching impact beyond just her classroom, because she is also the dean of students. She told CBS 58 the program actually benefits everyone involved.

"They like learning about it," said Janowski. "They get excited about it. It's content that fits right in with our curriculum. So it's not an add-on.it's something we can just jump right into it. And it gives them the tools to be successful."

SHARP Literacy president Lynda Kohler points to the success of the program; considering they are in some of the toughest parts of the area -- in which 85 percent of their students qualify for free meal programs. She said that 30 percent of SHARP students perform better than students at the highest performing schools in Milwaukee.

"To see the pretest versus the post test result, to see how many words that they actually gained, and the writing challenge," said Kohler. "Not that think they know the definition of the word, but they can use it in the context of a sentence."

"These guys smile," said Janowski. "They get excited. It eliminates discipline issues because they're so actively engaged. The questioning. I mean they're just preparing for the future. And to me it just makes my heart beat. I don't know, I'm getting choked up."

Most importantly, the students gain confidence in themselves as well as quench their thirst for learning. When third-grader Luis Cervantes was asked how he feels about taking part in the program he said, "Great and happy. And kind of smart."

Each year the students visit the Milwaukee Art Museum as part of the program. There is a good reason why.  SHARP was started by a docent at the museum. The SHARP Literacy program is making Milwaukee great.

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