First Literacy Lab

ESOL student potting seeds

The goal of First Literacy Lab is to provide grants to stimulate and support the development, trial, and implementation of Adult Basic Education (ABE) resources and practices that have an impact on specific students, programs, and the ABE field in general. The First Literacy Lab initiative strengthens individual programs and the Adult Basic Education field by cultivating innovative ideas and creative problem-solving.  Grants are made in the amount of up to $5,000.00 and are open to all ABE non-profit programs in Massachusetts.

First Literacy Lab Grants are unique in the field. They provide flexible funding which is not available from traditional funding sources. They give educators the resources they need to directly impact adult learners.  They strengthen the entire ABE field by sharing the findings of First Literacy Lab projects.  They provide grant recipients with on-site technical assistance and support in implementing projects.

Questions? Please contact Lenore Balliro, Director of Programs, by email at or by phone at 617-482-3336 x. 13.

FY 2018 First Literacy Lab RFP and Proposal Form

Example of a First Literacy Lab funded program

ABCD Mattapan 3
ESOL Student caring for plants

Summer ESOL Gardening Class
Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD)

ABCD developed this project after observing that many of their ESOL students had an interest in and experience with gardening, but did not know what plants grow in Boston and in many cases did not have enough room to garden. Students received both ESOL instruction and hands-on experience on the environment, gardening, plants and vegetables, comparing practices in their countries and the US.

We experienced this disconnect last summer when we brought our conversation class to City Natives for a tour. The students spent an hour and a half comparing plants in their home countries and here, learning the names of edible, medicinal, and decorative plants, and talking about the gardens that they had at home. They were excited about the topic and this engagement helped them to interact with our tour guide almost entirely in English. 

The gardening class used the students interest in the topic to strengthen their English vocabulary, speaking, listening, reading and writing skills. Potential projects included the following:

  • listening to and sharing a weather report
  • reading seed packet instructions
  • uses for different plants (medicinal, culinary, decorative)
  • filling out an application for a community garden,
  • and keeping a gardening journal

The timing of this class kept students engaged over the summer, which, because not many summer ESOL classes are offered, can be a time when student’s newly learned skills fall out of use.

Click here to see the full list of First Literacy Lab funded projects for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Want to learn more about our funded First Literacy Lab projects? Join us on Friday, October 27 for the 4th annual First Literacy Lab Project Presentations at District Hall.