Investing in Early Childhood Literacy

Published: Jun 3, 2021

(two women smiling and holding children's books)
Helm, Roswell, and Izat in an undated photo.

Louise Goodrich Izat ’70 and Donna Helm ’70 met their first week of classes in 1966. As French majors, they enjoyed many classes together with May Roswell, a professor of French and German and a founder of UMBC’s modern languages department. “May Roswell was a wonderful professor,” remembers Izat. They remember her as a dedicated and inspiring teacher. Now, more than half a century later, the two friends who share a love of words, have come together to create the Childhood Literacy Scholarship Endowment in honor of Roswell.

Izat has been a volunteer at a reading camp in her community for six years. Her experience has made her aware of how many children need additional reading support to move beyond decoding to comprehension and develop a lifelong love of reading. Helm has always been proud that she comes from a family of avid readers and has seen the positive impact strong reading skills can have on a career. After learning what work UMBC faculty and students are doing in the work of childhood literacy, Izat and Helm decided to combine their love of the written word to support early literacy work. 

The scholarship is awarded through The Sherman Center for Early Learning in Urban Communities (the Sherman Center). “With this Childhood Literacy Scholarship, our goal is to provide financial aid to promising undergraduate students committed to early childhood literacy development,” says Izat. Izat and Helm’s $25,000 endowment will support a different UMBC student each year with a scholarship of $1,000 or more for educational and research expenses. 

Supporting the next generation of educators

By focusing on childhood literacy, Helm and Izat’s endowment will help a burgeoning education professional continue to focus on their research and community-engaged work.

Ayodélé La Veau ’21, psychology and theatre, the first recipient of the scholarship, has been an active volunteer in the Sherman Center’s Literacy Fellows Program at Bay-Brook Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore City. The program pairs college students with a Baltimore City elementary school. Fellows visit a classroom and work with a teacher throughout the semester, helping students develop reading and writing skills. 

Headshot courtesy of La Veau.

La Veau was able to be a part of a transition period with Bay-Brook Elementary/Middle School when they opened their new building. She saw how the combination of entering into a new building and having a more equipped teacher in their new learning environment made students more willing to learn and excitement to improve their literacy skills. “I believe in the impact of showing children the possibility and importance of their growth and development,” shares La Veau. “Not only through verbal affirmation but through proper guidance and access to resources.”

In 2020, La Veau earned a UMBC Undergraduate Research Award to study the use of the creative process as a means to teach and explore social-emotional learning using data from public secondary schools and creative arts programs within Baltimore City. The pandemic did not permit her to begin the research. Instead, she shifted her attention to supporting local communities digitally.

In addition to the academic and mental health needs of young people, La Veau is equally adamant about food equity and its impact on both. She currently serves as the vice president of the board of directors for The Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm which grows healthy food to help feed people facing food insecurity in Baltimore.

“My work allows me to witness the effects of investing in children’s lives through healthy and safe learning environments,” shared La Veau. “The Childhood Literacy Scholarship is so wonderful and has been a major blessing for me.” La Veau’s zeal is not an exception but an example of the various committed students the Sherman Center supports. 

Part of the solution

Izat and Helm are excited that the scholarship will help La Veau continue her work with young children and her research. “We want to support students who will become part of the solution to the childhood literacy problem in our country,” share the two donors. “We are delighted that Ayodélé La Veau is our first recipient. She has a lot of energy, is an amazing young woman, and her work will have a positive impact on the lives of children.”

Sherman Center Director Mavis Sanders, in yellow, at the 2018 Teacher Summer Institute, which provides early childhood educators with information, resources, and collaborative planning time. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11.

Izat and Helm’s endowment supports the mission of the Sherman Center “to build a strong foundation for lifelong learning among young children in Baltimore City and develop best early childhood education practices for urban schools.” Now in its third year, the Sherman Center has become the hub of early childhood education, research, and practices, not only for Baltimore City but also for Maryland. 

“There is something special about UMBC students, past and present, and it is great when they meet around shared commitments,” says Mavis Sanders, professor of education and the inaugural director of the Sherman Center. “I am grateful to be a part of the Childhood Literacy Scholarship and assist alumni, like Louise Izat and Donna Helm, to support Retrievers who share their passion for helping children discover the joy and power of reading.”


Header image provided by Donna Helm and Louise Izat.

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