Local Government and Politics, News

REAL on a mission to improve literacy

Jan Plourde is the Founder and Executive Director of the REAL Program in Lynn. (Spenser R. Hasak)

LYNN — Reading and Educational Assistance for Learning (REAL) founder Jan Plourde likes to look ahead. She envisions replicating her Atlantic Street program in six other neighborhoods across the city. 

“We have the experience, energy and excitement to do it,” Plourde said. 

The Beverly native drew on her background running a former Learning Tree educational material store and a daycare center to establish REAL in 2013. She used her contacts with Lynn teachers to reach out to parents interested in enhancing their kids’ school experiences with additional reading-based learning. 

Initially located in the former Temple Ahabat Sholom on Ocean Street, REAL moved to board of directors member Brad Payne’s Atlantic Street home in 2017. 

The home’s ornate woodwork contrasts with the bright colors and shelves of children’s books in the first-floor rooms used by REAL. 

REAL’s mission, outlined in its literature, is to improve literacy by providing children with books, homework assistance, and “just plain healthy fun.” 

The program operates during the fall, from January to May, and from July 15 to August 22. Summer enrollment slots are still open and additional information is available by emailing Plourde at jan@therealprogram.org.

Amina and Mohamed Hab, who will enter the fourth grade at the Brickett Elementary School this fall, are enrolled in REAL’s summer session. Amina said playing games with the program’s teachers will sustain her interest in her favorite subjects over the summer.

“I like everything but science and animals the best,” she said. 

One goal Plourde set for REAL was to give college students like Tammie Lugo and her daughter Delilah Lugo an opportunity to work with children.

Tammie is studying early childhood development at North Shore Community College (NSCC) and Delilah is earning a degree at Gordon College in Spanish and linguistics.

“This is one of the only programs I heard about that involved working with children,” said Tammie. “It’s very exciting to have a preschool start here in the fall. I’ll be able to do work study.”

Delilah said the one-way observation window looking onto one of the REAL classrooms allows teachers to observe how students interact with one another and with teachers.

“What is interesting to me is childhood development when it comes to language,” Delilah Lugo said.

Plourde taught one of the classes Raisa Ferreras took while earning an associates degree at NSCC. Now engaged in graduate studies at Salem State University, Ferraras is overseeing second-language learning at REAL.

The job is near to her heart: She could not speak English came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic as a teenager.

“I knew I wanted to teach and I realized REAL was all I wanted,” she said. 

Parents pay 10 dollars a day for the children to attend REAL. Plourde said private donations and money raised at the program’s October fundraiser help pay the bills.

REAL has also benefited from donations of time and skills, including RAW Art Works “Good2Go” initiative which sent teenage artists to Atlantic Street to create “Squiddy the Octopus” in the home’s front yard.

“I work pretty hard to make sure we collaborate with other groups,” Plourde said.

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