The HERO Literacy program for disadvantaged children was founded by the late Mr. Mark Cort as an independent initiative to help struggling students achieve grade-level proficiency and to promote functional literacy among children of all ages in Guyana. He recognized that the inability to read is inextricably linked to poverty, unemployment, dependency and criminal activity among our youth. As a result of his interaction with young people from diverse communities across Guyana, he discovered that many were unable to read and lacked basic academic skills that would have enabled them to become productive members of society. He was convinced that once children were exposed to a supportive environment in which they were taught positive reading skills, they would rapidly develop the consciousness to further expand their knowledge and thereby prepare themselves for a productive future.
Begins in Georgetown
On August 7th, 2000, Mr. Cort launched the first summer literacy program at the East Ruimveldt Secondary School in Greater Georgetown, Guyana. Several teachers from various schools in the city volunteered their services and Mr. Cort acquired the Hooked on Phonics Reading Program as the basis of instruction for the children. Classes were held weekdays from 9:00AM to noon, with a mid-morning snack break. The initial enrollment of about two dozen children quickly expanded to more than 100 by the end of the initial six-week program. By 2002, the program had achieved a regular enrollment of more than two hundred students and a lengthy waiting list. Many parents were so impressed by their children’s enthusiasm that they asked to be involved in the effort under the pretext that they wished to assist the teachers. In response to this additional need, Mr. Cort initiated an adult literacy class organized as a “discussion group” between himself and the parents.
For the first six years — from its inception in 2000 until 2006 — the entire program was funded by Mr. Mark Cort, supplemented by donations from relatives and friends. At the end of each program, the children were provided with a certificate of participation and a set of school supplies to enable their return to the formal classroom for the new school year. In 2007, Mr. KenrickCort joined the program as a co-sponsor; this co-sponsorship included provision for a stipend to be paid to the teachers and a hot meal to be provided to the children at midday. That same year, the program was also relocated to a school in Central Georgetown in order to accommodate other communities of children in need.
Sophia Joins in Literacy Project
In 2008, the program was merged with HERO’s Sophia Literacy project, which was fully funded by HERO. Classes were held at the Sophia and Den Amstel community centers, with a joint enrollment at that time of some 260 students and 18 teachers. During the course of the program, children were also provided free healthcare from the HERO medical team; in cases where they were diagnosed with an ailment they were treated and where follow-up care was required, they were referred to the nearest clinic for treatment.
From 2009 to 2013, the Literacy program was hosted at various locations within Sophia and Den Amstel with an average enrollment of nearly 300 students each year. In 2010, Mr. Kenrick Cort, the Director of Education for HERO, initiated a training program in Guyana for teachers and also introduced an annual evaluation of incoming students, using the WADE methodology, to determine their level of proficiency and to monitor their progress throughout the program. On the basis of those assessments, we are proud to report that students participating in our education program have made significant and consistent progress and have continued to excel in school.
Moving Beyond Georgetown
In 2016, HERO expanded the reach of its education program by launching a one-year pilot project to assist eligible students in preparing for standardized exams offered throughout the academic year. The pilot project is being implemented in the hitherto underserved communities of Mocha Village on the East Bank Demerara and Lusignan on the East Coast Demerara. Our HERO Literacy program is also being expanded and diversified to offer additional support for students in mathematics and writing. As our education initiative continues to evolve, we are inspired by the enthusiasm of our students and the transformative success that this program has been able to facilitate in the lives of so many.