Alison has volunteered for CODE in Liberia, Tanzania and most recently, Ghana.
Full name with academic titles
Dr. Alison Preece, Professor Emerita, Faculty of Education, University of Victoria
Current and recent positions held
Professor, Literacy and Early Childhood Education; Associate Dean of Teacher Education; Academic Director, Intercultural Education Certificate Program; Founding & Executive Member, Centre for Early Childhood Research and Policy.
B.A. Literature (UBC); M.A. Early Literacy (UVIC); PhD Language & Literacy (UVIC); Professional Teaching Certificate (UVIC)
What is your CODE connection and how did you get involved with CODE?
I knew Scott Walter, CODE’s Executive Director, from RWCT (Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking). He was one of the originators of that immensely successful initiative and I had volunteered with RWCT for over a decade. Scott invited me to come to a meeting in Chicago to consider how best to respond to a request from the WE-CARE Library in Monrovia to create culturally relevant books for “Liberian children about life in Liberia.” That meeting resulted in the creation of the Reading Liberia program and the rest evolved from there.
How long have you been working as an expert volunteer with CODE?
10 + years
Where and in what capacities have you volunteered for CODE
I have made many trips to Liberia and Tanzania and have just returned from my first trip to Ghana. In each country I’ve helped support and mentor local teacher ‘trainers’ and provide workshops; I’ve helped write the trainers’ and teachers’ literacy guidebooks used; I’ve helped develop the program evaluation instruments and train evaluators; and I’ve monitored implementation efforts with classroom visits and observations. I’ve also had the pleasure of providing workshops for writers in Liberia, and I’ve helped to select and edit book manuscripts from Liberia and Sierra Leone, and work with publishers in Tanzania. Some of this work is ongoing.
Why do you give of your precious time and expertise to support CODE?
I applaud CODE’s approach to building close, genuinely collaborative, responsive, long-term working relationships with their in-country partners. This reflects a fundamental respect for the perspectives and capabilities of the local project participants that is not always a given in so-called ‘development’ work. It is hugely important to me.
Also, I am a committed advocate of the multi-pronged nature of the CODE projects that work simultaneously to support local book production/provision; to develop libraries; and to provide teacher education. Teachers need tools and knowledge of how to use them creatively and effectively. I have seen the impact of this comprehensive, responsive approach, and know the difference it makes. I trust the ethics and intentions of CODE initiatives – and that matters.I always come home knowing more than I did when I left and invigorated by the wonderful people I’ve met.
As a result of the workshops, he wrote a moving book, Under the Bridge, which recounted the experiences of three young homeless boys who met while huddling for safety under one of the city bridges. In parallel with the writers’ workshops, I was working with teachers, sharing multiple strategies for developing reading competence through the use of ‘story books’, one of which was a draft copy of Under the Bridge.
I invited Gus to sit in on the session, initially unannounced, so that he could see for himself the response his book was generating. I will never forget the look on his face as he heard the teachers, who did not at that point know he was there, whole-heartedly appreciate his book, and describe how they would share it with their students.It was such an honest validation of his writing.Later in the session, I introduced him, and he talked with the teachers about the process of creating the book, and his initial hesitation about whether he could write it.Their response convinced him he had something to say that needed to be heard; he told me it encouraged him to go on to write more books ... and he has.
What book most influenced you as a child and why?
Little Women by Louise May Alcott made an indelible impression. Like so many others, I aspiringly identified with Jo, relishing in her independence and intelligence. She was a powerful model. I loved that book, still do. Its impact perhaps partially explains why I so fervently believe in the power of books to open possibilities and shape identities and aspirations. It’s one reason I fully endorse CODE’s commitment to providing students with high-quality books that honour their minds and their cultures.
What would we find on your bedside table these days?
I can’t find my bedside table – it’s always buried under piles of books! I feel deprived if I don’t have a mix of books on-the-go. Have recently really enjoyed this year’s 3 Burt Award prize winners for Ghana (now in the hands of my granddaughter), and am happily working my way through the finalists for First Nations, Inuit and Metis Literature. I’ve just finished Roland Wright’s Stolen Continents: The Indian Story: had a huge impact and gave me an education I should have been exposed to years ago. I’m working my way through Sean O’Casey’s 6 autobiographical volumes, marveling at the magic of his his language. And six cook books!
Alison Preece (center) while on a school visit in Liberia.