Promoting Literacy, Strengthening Families

Paul Schvaneveldt was a senior pre-law major at Utah State University when he participated in an internship at the state Legislature that changed his life. He was assigned to work for a senator who also happened to be an attorney. “The senator taught me so much and gave me insight into what life would be like as a practicing attorney,” Schvaneveldt said. “I appreciated his guidance and eventually decided law just wasn’t for me.”

Schvaneveldt “stumbled upon a family and human development program” and “never looked back.” The legal profession’s loss was Weber State’s gain.

Today, Schvaneveldt chairs WSU’s Department of Child and Family Studies. He also directs Weber State’s Family Literacy Program and Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Project, in which he works with 16 local agencies and groups to serve lower-income, ethnically diverse individuals and families in Weber and Davis counties. The two programs were honored with WSU’s 2015 Exemplary Collaboration Award.

Family Literacy Program facilitators mentor and train Ogden-Weber Head Start parents to be more engaged in their children’s literacy activities and teach discipline and child-guidance skills.

“Our motto is, ‘A parent is a child’s first and most important teacher,’” Schvaneveldt said. “We encourage parents to start reading to their children early and often. One of the strong predictors of how well children will do in school is their vocabulary at age 5. The larger the vocabulary — which comes through talking, reading, singing and playing together — the greater the likelihood the child will graduate high school and attend college.”

Facilitators of the Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Project help individuals, whether married, engaged, divorced or single, learn to build and sustain healthy, stable relationships.

When people are knowledgeable about the skills needed to have healthy relationships, like communication and conflict resolution, they have more stable marriages, and less abuse and violence in their relationships,” Schvaneveldt said.

Each semester, students from the Department of Child and Family Studies work with these two programs. They visit parents in their homes to teach them literacy activities and conduct relationship classes for groups of 30 to 40 people.

“I like to get students into the community,” Schvaneveldt said. “Many of them want to be marriage and family therapists, so this gives them real-life experience. It’s gratifying to see them work hard and be successful.”

500: The total number of individuals served annually by WSU’s FAMILY Literacy Program and Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Project

100: The percentage of students from the Department of CHILD AND FAMILY STUDIES who have been accepted to graduate programs over the last eight years. Their applications are bolstered by real-world experiences such as the Family Literacy Program and Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Project.