Brittany Selah Lee-Bey

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, 54 percent of adults, nearly 130 million people, aged 16 to 74 lack literacy proficiency, reading below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level. 

Low levels of literacy make individuals more likely to have poorer employment opportunities, lower income, and as a result, they may experience welfare dependency, low self-esteem and higher levels of crime. 

Brittany Selah Lee-Bey, director of literacy and reading specialist at Washington Latin Public Charter School, has stepped in to try to improve the state of literacy with “EtymologyRules: Back to Basic,” an interactive workbook that gives readers a deeper understanding of the origin of words and their meanings. 

“I think because I loved reading and I saw these young people, who looked like me, had difficulties with literacy, it was just something [where] I wanted to help people to better themselves,” said Lee-Bey. 

Etymology is the study of the origin and history of words, including their denotative meanings and the different shades of meaning that have been applied to them over time. It comprises the analysis of speech sounds, the formation of words, words’ meanings and context, grammar and how words gradually change in form. 

Understanding the etymology of words can improve reading comprehension, writing abilities, spelling, speaking and communication skills. It can also help students become word conscious, or aware and interested in new words and their meanings. 

“EtymologyRules: Back to Basics” advances readers’ basic and critical reading skills by teaching them about words’ sounds, patterns and components. It also helps them increase their word recognition and vocabulary skills, and it offers diagrams, exercises and self-paced learning activities. 

Some of the workbook’s exercises include identifying vowels in words, classifying consonant sounds, decoding multisyllabic words and identifying prefixes and suffixes. 

Because the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to shut down and transition to virtual learning, Lee-Bey said she expects more students to have literacy challenges.  

“It’s hard to teach them foundational skills virtually,” said Lee-Bey. “Even now I’m getting fifth and sixth graders, and I’m seeing the impact of the pandemic on their literacy skills.” 

Before school returned this week, Lee-Bey had the opportunity to engage teachers with “EtymologyRules: Back to Basics” for professional development. 

Many said they wanted to start the year off with a thorough understanding of how they can support students with low literacy levels, and they were very appreciative of the workbook, according to Lee-Bey. 

She hopes to run more professional development sessions with teachers this school year, and she wants to exhibit how etymology can be beneficial across all curriculum and subject areas. 

Eventually, Lee-Bey would also like to provide virtual learning surrounding etymology, so educators can have the background information needed to implement and create literacy programs. 

“I call anybody who goes through this [workbook] and really absorbs this information a word connoisseur, and I believe that we have to be word connoisseurs, so we can have students be word conscious,” said Lee-Bey.

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