January 5, 2006: The little paper that could

      January 6, 2006
      Contact: Joan Acosta at 604.986.5401
      or, Shelley Kean at 604.983.7596

      (NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C.)–From an award-winning newspaper for British Columbia’s adult learners to an award-winning literary magazine recognized worldwide, Capilano College is renowned for its respected publications. The first of the two, The Westcoast Reader, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The other is The Capilano Review, which will turn 35 next year.

      The WCR is a popular newspaper for adult literacy learners and new immigrants. The publication is designed to help new readers develop reading skills, while providing interesting and relevant information with an adult focus. It started in 1981 with a circulation of 8,000. Today, each issue reaches more than 100,000 people.

      The Westcoast Reader’s editor, Joan Acosta, writes all the articles, many of which she adapts from The Vancouver Sun and The Province newspaper. Joan said that readers find something very appealing about real news and real stories.

      “I couldn’t exist without the relationship with the Pacific Newspaper Group,” explained the former English as a second language instructor, who is negotiating a similar agreement with the Calgary Herald. “The Sun and The Province allow me to simplify their stories and use their photos at no cost.”

      Another important partner for the North Vancouver resident is the North Shore News, which has been supplying the WCR with free photos for the past 20 years.

      The idea for an English as a second language newspaper was first discussed in 1981 by an interest group at a B.C. TEAL (Teachers of an Additional Language) conference. The first editor left after a year, and Joan, an ESL instructor at Capilano College, took over the helm.

      A turbulent first few years occurred when the Socred government (the provincial government that was in power at the time and administering federal funding for the paper), announced that it wanted editorial control. This brought a flood of help from teachers, newspaper columnists and students alike. Capilano College’s then-president, Dr. Paul Gallagher, successfully negotiated a deal for money and editorial control and the paper continued to flourish. Today, annual funding for the newspaper comes from B.C’s Ministry of Advanced Education.

      With a tight budget, Joan has creatively produced more than 20 special supplements over the years to help finance the publication. The one on HIV/AIDS received worldwide attention when little was known about the virus.

      Throughout its 25-year history, the WCR has helped thousands of people develop literacy skills. They range from adult ESL and literacy learners to hearing-impaired adults and children to people recovering from strokes. It has also been transcribed for blind readers and is very popular in both upper elementary and high schools. Articles are written at three levels of difficulty, providing even beginning readers with a starting point for reading.

      In 1987, the WCR received a Leaders of Readers Literacy Award from Family Circle magazine and the Council for Periodical Distributors. It was the only Canadian project to win one of four $5,000 US awards for fighting illiteracy. The award was presented to Joan in Washington, D.C. where the winners were introduced to then-U.S. Vice-President George Bush Sr. at the White House. Joan also received a letter of congratulations from then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

      She has received numerous individual awards, including the Commemorative Medal for Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee, and a Women in Media Award in 1991. But the one that gives her greatest pride is the Order of British Columbia, which she received in 1994.

      “It was very meaningful and a great honour to receive the award from David Lam, who was B.C.’s Lt.-Governor at the time,” Joan said. “When I got the award, Nobel Prize winner Michael Smith was also being honoured, as was Haida artist Bill Reid. So I was in very prestigious company.

      “Very few educators have received the Order of B.C.,” she added, “so it was really special – particularly because this was before literacy was recognized as an important issue by the government.”

      A new website for the WCR is proving to be a huge success with its visitors, even though it has only been up for four months.

      “It’s fascinating to see how many hits are made each month,” said Joan, who started her ESL career in the ‘70s as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural village in Liberia. “People from Japan, Korea and China are downloading the Teacher’s Notes even though they don’t have access to the newspaper.”

      The words “making a world of difference” have never been more appropriate than in describing Joan and her newspaper.

      For more information, visit the WCR website at http://www.westcoastreader.ca/.