It was 3:30pm and nearly 90 degrees. The summer was over, but the late hour and thick, hot air didn’t damper the eager buzz of a troop of 6- and 7-year olds who couldn’t wait to stay another hour after school.
“Marisol, I like you just the way you are… . You’re simply marvelous,” read Charlotte, a volunteer reader from Pandora, a nearby technology company that brought an impressive 18 volunteers to Garfield Elementary in Oakland last Thursday. The event was part of the Super Stars Literacy and Bay Area Community Resources after-school programs to celebrate the Latino/a Literature Read-In.
Kimberly, a petite 6-year old and Charlotte’s student for the day, jumped up and down in her seat and said emphatically of her favorite part of Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match , “I like when she wins the puppy!”
In another room, Pandora volunteer Jenny Carlton was flanked by two girls—KaMwe on one side and Stacy on the other. With wide-eyed gazes at the intricately illustrated birds and gardens in Abuela, a bilingual Spanish-English storybook, they leaned comfortably into Jenny. They didn’t want to miss a single detail of the story.
Leila Rogers, Super Stars Literacy Group Leader, says she sees huge benefit in kids being exposed to adults who love reading. She watches the children emulate adults and it helps the children cultivate a love of reading all their own.
Of the effects of reading on kids that Leila witnesses, she said, “It relaxes and calms them—transports them to another world. Connecting to another person through reading makes them feel safe, relaxed, more open and trusting.”
These festivities were part of the Latina/o Literature Read-in Celebration, a week-long, Oakland-wide, series of reading events organized by the Oakland Public Education Fund in partnership with the Educational Coalition for Hispanics in Oakland (ECHO), Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation, OUSD, Oakland Literacy Coalition, Oakland Reads 2020, Girls & Boys Moving Forward, Reading Partners, Super Stars Literacy, and the Unity Council. Guest authors reading from their works, family reading nights, volunteer read-alouds and special guests such as council members and sports figures gathered at schools across Oakland to inspire kids to read. And the program wasn’t limited to children of Latino heritage.
The Latina/o Literature Read-In was a K-12 event for all of OUSD. However, this particular Super Stars Literacy organized event was meant to give kids the extra boost needed to get them to grade-level reading by third grade. In a school like Garfield Elementary with a student body that speaks roughly 40 languages, the challenge could seem daunting. But it’s working.
According to OUSD, in the past year, Oakland’s Latino kids’ reading scores increased by 5.6 percentage points. African American test scores went up nearly 10 percentage points (Oakland Unified started a program for African American boys five years ago). While we’re making great strides, we have a long road ahead, which is why we need programs like the Latina/o Literature Read-In.
These specialized programs provide specific cultures with the customized learning and nurtured environments they don’t get in a classroom where all demographics are grouped together under one curriculum. Through organizational and governmental collaborations like this one, Oakland can pool resources and provide the kind of unique learning kids from different backgrounds need to succeed in school, and in life.
“Our Read-Ins give the wider community a way to connect to our public schools,” said Benj Vardigan, Oakland Public Education Fund director of communications. “We want to encourage more people to volunteer in our schools, and to raise visibility and awareness about literacy.”
“The kids were very chatty. They have a lot of energy. I was trying to read while they were asking questions. They were really into the books,” said Thomas Vaquerano, volunteer coordinator for Pandora.
Alondra noted her favorite part of the book, Marisol McDonald, “I like when she was hanging upside down!” It’s safe to assume that Alondra will remember this day as one that made reading fun.