Students and Parents In Cooperative Education (SPICE) Family Literacy Programme

Country Profile: United States of America


320,051,000 (2013)

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GDP


Access to Primary Education – Total Net Enrolment Rate (NIR)

96% (2011)

Adult literacy rate (ages 16 to 56) - 2012

PIAAC test results: percentage of adults scoring at each proficiency level in literacy (level 1 represents the lowest level of proficiency, level 5 the highest):
Below Level 1: 3.9%
Level 1: 13.6%
Level 2: 32.6%
Level 3: 34.2%
Level 4: 10.9%
Level 5: 0.6%


UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Programme Overview

Programme TitleStudents and Parents In Cooperative Education (SPICE) Family Literacy Programme
Implementing OrganizationMaine School Administrative District (MSAD) No. 3 (under the Adult and Community Education Programme)
Language of InstructionEnglish
Programme PartnersBroadreach, MSAD No. 3, National Even Start – No Child Left Behind, the Barbara Bush Foundation For Family Literacy (through the Maine Family Literacy Initiative (MEFLI Lighthouse grant) and the State (through the Adult Education and Family Literacy grant)
Date of Inception2000 –

Context and Background

School attendance rates in the USA have nearly reached universal levels and as a result, youth and adult literacy rates are also high. Despite these significant developments, illiteracy remains a major challenge in the country. The National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) revealed that 14 per cent of adults – about 30 million – were functionally illiterate as of 2003. Furthermore, disparities still exist between regions/location (urban, suburban or rural) and ethnic groups with regards to access to education, therefore hindering educational attainment and levels of literacy competence.

Studies indicate that communities in impoverished and isolated rural districts such as western Waldo County in Maine have limited access to quality education. Population census data for Waldo County indicates that between 15.4 and 16.3 per cent of the total adult population (aged 25 and above) failed to complete secondary (high) school while the average school drop-out rate is estimated to be between 2.71 and 4.46 per cent. Consequently, the NALS estimates that about 42 per cent (400,000) of Maine’s total adult population is functionally illiterate with limited capacity to perform numeric calculations, read and comprehend written text, to complete an application form or to ‹integrate easily identifiable pieces of information›. Thus, overall, ‹one in five adults in Maine lacks the literacy skills required to effectively function› in a modern society.

High levels of functional illiteracy among adults have engendered various socioeconomic challenges for Maine including poverty and homelessness. The 2003 poverty report, for example, reveals that only 18 per cent of the adult population in Waldo County were gainfully and permanently employed while 46.1 per cent worked part-time and 39 per cent were unemployed. As a result, about of 13.3 per cent of the families in Maine School Administrative District No. 3 (MSAD No. 3) lived below the federally established poverty level. These social-economic problems – particularly a lack of parental educational support and poverty – had a negative effect on children’s educational attainment/achievement. Recognising the need to break the cycle of illiteracy and the attendant social challenges, the MSADistrict No. 3 initiated the Students and Parents In Cooperative Education (SPICE) family literacy programme (SPICE-FLP). The SPICE-FLP principally endeavours to create sufficient educational opportunities for Maine’s disadvantaged families and therefore to empower them to function effectively in a modern society.

The SPICE Family Literacy Programme (SPICE-FLP)


The SPICE-FLP is a comprehensive, home-based and intergenerational programme which, primarily, provides professional and technical-based literacy training to disadvantaged families in Maine’s western Waldo County. In addition, the programme also assists other learners with college placement examination preparation classes, citizenship test training, work-based literacy training and high school classes, as well as GED (General Educational Development) preparation and testing.

The programme was initiated by the MSAD No. 3 under the Adult and Community Education Programme. It specifically targets families (parents and their children) ‹most-in-need› of educational training due to their socio-economic status as indicated by low literacy skills competence and educational attainment, low employment status and income. In addition, the programme targets families who are at-risk of failing to access education such as teen-parents and children with special needs and their parents.

Aims and Objectives

The aims and objectives of the SPICE-FLP are to:

Programme Curriculum


In order to achieve these goals, the SPICE-FLP has developed a broad and scientifically-based literacy curriculum which encompasses basic literacy and numeracy (reading, comprehension and writing), adult education, early childhood education, parent education, and intergenerational literacy activities. Besides literacy skills, the comprehensive and integrated curriculum is also intended to foster the development of a broad range of social skills among learners including:

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

The SPICE-FLP works through the collaboration of local communities, institutions and organisations including Broadreach, Parents Are Teachers, Too! (PATT), the University of Maine in Augusta and MSAD No. 3, with the latter providing educational services to all students up to high (secondary) school. On the other hand, through PATT, expectant or young mothers’ reproductive health and childcare education needs are met.

Programme Impact

Since its inception in 2000, the SPICE-FLP has supported an average of 20 families per year. Comparing this data to the proposed indicators to serve 15 families in order to receive funding from the federal Even Start Programme, SPICE has overreached its original goal.

Mobilisation and Enrolment of Learners

Because the SPICE-FLP employs a comprehensive case management model for family literacy – a model which is designed to provide families with individualised literacy training at their homes – programme participants are recruited throughout the year. This policy has, in turn, provided learners with the flexibility to integrate literacy learning into their everyday activities and thus acts as an essential motivation for participation. In order to optimise the recruitment of learners, the SPICE-FLP has formed a community-based advisory board comprising of members of the local communities and local schools. The advisory board plays a critical role in programme implementation. They are, for example, actively involved in the development of the curriculum, in promoting community awareness of literacy training and education as well as in mobilising programme participants. In addition, SPICE also relies on community outreach or advocacy campaigns including press releases, various websites, distribution of flyers and SPICE booklet through public/community centres (e.g. libraries, shops, post offices, town offices and local schools), workshops and public functions such as the Maine family literacy conference in order to build public awareness of and to recruit participants into the programme and to build community trust. SPICE staff also conduct the intake process in the home. This process identifies existing services and gathers pertinent information on educational attainment. This information assists the team to identify the most in-need families, to undertake family literacy needs assessment, to assess the developmental level of each target child and develop a comprehensive curriculum which best addresses the needs of participating families.

Teaching-Learning Approaches and Methods

The SPICE-FLP employs innovative and multi-faceted teaching-learning approaches, which include individual tutoring, small group classes, and computerised learning assistance. However, students’ personal learning styles and educational needs are the primary factors which determine instructional strategies. Students are encouraged and challenged by their instructors to reach higher levels of achievement.


The SPICE adult education instructor supplemented computer assisted instruction with regular home instruction for parents getting their GED certification as well as those who needed adult basic reading, writing and maths. Using PLATO, a self-based learning technology, with adults who were at a higher level, it is possible for the instructor to spend more time with those at a lower level which need more direct instruction. Authentic materials such as newspapers, parenting materials, magazines, videos, internet sites, cookbooks and parent-chosen materials were used as the basis of instruction. All adult education instruction utilised research and scientifically-based methodologies. The focus of the early childhood education curriculum is to improve the pre-literacy and literacy skills of the target children in the programme. The pre-literacy and literacy skills taught by the SPICE staff to children are: sensory skills, fine motor skills, creative skills, gross motor skills, language skills, social skills and thinking and problem solving skills. The premise is that all children learn with their whole being and, therefore, pre-literacy, pre-reading and literacy information are most effectively taught through a wide variety of learning experiences. The primary goal of early childhood literacy is to prepare target children for success in school.

The programme has an extensive library of age-appropriate books, toys and games that are borrowed by the children to build their developmental, pre-literacy and literacy skills which are necessary for success in school. During home visits, the children also receive books and toys to contribute to their own library of learning. SPICE instructors help parents learn important skills such as advocacy, role modelling and teaching.


SPICE Speaks is the programme’s colourful, bound publication printed two to three times per programme year. Included are student-generated works such as children’s stories and drawings, and parents’ poetry, essays, and journal entries. Issues of SPICE Speaks is distributed to every family, shared with collaborators, legislators and the school board.

Lessons Learned



Pat Hughes
Adult & Community Education Director, SPICE Family Literacy Programme Administrator
577 Mount View Road, Thorndike, ME 04986
Tel: 207-568-3426 and/or 207-568-3420
Fax: 207-568-3471
E-mail: phughes (at)
Web site: or

Last update: June 2011