Beyond reading: TalentLift and Hoot Reading partnership helps newcomer kids thrive

Sam (right) with his Dad Wael

Sam’s favourite books are about dogs, and he likes reading them with Ms. Melissa.

It’s an impressive feat for a 4-and-a-half-year-old to already be reading, but even more so when one considers that Sam and his family have only been in Canada for six months.

Arriving from Syria on a cold January day, Sam and his family had only just settled into Vaughan, Ontario before he began kindergarten. The first couple of weeks were a struggle for Sam — not knowing any English meant that socializing and following along in class was difficult and intimidating.

Sam’s father, Wael, had been recruited to work as a Cabinetmaker in Vaughan through TalentLift, which connects people living in refugee situations with employers and supports their immigration to Canada. Though Wael had studied English in school and was confident in the language, Sam hadn’t had a chance to learn while the family lived in a refugee situation. 

Needing to catch up on his English, Sam was connected with Ms. Melissa, a teacher and part of the Hoot Teacher Network. Hoot Reading is an online tutoring service that provides evidence-based, 1:1 literacy instruction for children. Sam was referred to Hoot Reading through their partnership with TalentLift.

In November, Hoot Reading and TalentLift committed to delivering the Rising Readers program, a 1:1 literacy instruction program, to 200 children from newcomer families arriving from refugee situations. Sam is one of those children who is currently benefiting from the Rising Readers program, which includes 15 reading lessons delivered by qualified educators in Hoot Reading’s Teacher Network.

The program is funded through the ScotiaRISE Initiative, Scotiabank’s 10-year, $500 million commitment to funding programs that promote economic resilience among disadvantaged groups.

Hoot Reading was founded in 2018 with a mission to change children’s lives through literacy. Their innovative app was incubated at the Nokia Research Lab with Sesame Workshop (the creators of Sesame Street) and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Today, they develop solutions to improve literacy outcomes for diverse populations across North America. 

Long before the pandemic necessitated scalable solutions for online learning, Hoot’s evidence-based approach to providing literacy tutoring was pioneering flexible, individualized reading interventions by qualified teachers.

Maya Kotecha, the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Hoot Reading, says the collaboration with TalentLift to serve newcomer children has two very important personal connections.

First, as a parent of two young children, Maya says she has seen the consequences that reading and literacy difficulties can have on a child’s confidence and overall educational progression. Second, as the daughter of immigrants to Canada, she has first-hand knowledge of the massive burdens with which newcomers to the country are faced, and how English fluency and literacy can greatly benefit economic and social outcomes for their families.

By targeting school-aged children from refugee situations like Sam, Hoot Reading and TalentLift are helping newcomer children more easily integrate into their schools and social groups, thriving in their new communities.

Having spent the first part of the year paired up with his teacher Ms. Melissa, doing online lessons three times a week, Sam’s English reading and speaking levels have vastly improved. Sam says he likes to do counting activities with Ms. Melissa, and exercises that involve “pigs, cats, birds, and the colour red.”

According to Wael, “the program has been very useful because now Sam is much more confident in his pronunciation of English words, and he is motivated to keep learning to read.”

“He now knows what his teacher (at his school) is telling the class, and he’s excited to be there and to make new friends.”

Sam agrees. “I like playing soccer with my friends,” he giggles. “And going to the library with Dad.”

Join a community of pioneering hiring teams across Canada. Start hiring with TalentLift.

With the support of the Scotiabank ScotiaRISE initiative, TalentLift has built a talent platform for displaced job seekers to self-register, develop job-readiness, and connect to transformative job and relocation opportunities to Canada. Learn more.