On January 2, 2014, Words Alive, a San Diego organization dedicated to improving literacy for ages preschool to adult, received a $10,000 grant from the S. Mark Taper Foundation to support critical literacy programs. Nicole Daniel, Development Manager for Words Alive, said, “This grant will help us implement our programs that foster a love of reading in underserved communities throughout San Diego County!"
Included in this programming is now Rolling Readers, welcomed by Words Alive in January 2014. Words Alive is happy to announce this partnership by continuing the Share Your Love of Reading event next week. She said, “The campaign was started by Rolling Readers a few years ago. Sponsored by Mission Federal Credit Union, It takes place in celebration of Valentine’s Day and Interim Mayor Todd Gloria, Fox 5’s Heather Ford, and Supervisor Dave Roberts are among those participating this year as honorary readers. We will be continuing the read-aloud event as part of our awareness campaign on February 12 & 13.”
Two volunteers who are currently sharing their love of reading through Words Alive’s programs are Sharon Gruby and Rick Seidenwurm. Gruby describes herself as being passionate about children’s literature and works in local preschools. “Developing a love for reading and learning has been the focus of my life,” she said. As an educator for 37 years, Gruby understands the value of developing literacy early on. She added, “General knowledge is that remediation of reading problems after the early years is generally ineffective, so when I found that I could help make a difference, I volunteered to be part of it.”
Seidenwurm works with kids aged 14 to 19 at Choice Summit High. He describes his “beat” as “a one-room schoolhouse in the basement of the YMCA in City Heights serving twenty to thirty kids.”
The school where Seidenwurm teaches is administered by the San Diego County Office of Education’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools system. Students participate in the reading program and monthly book club as an alternative to juvenile detention. “I thought about quitting after my first session at Choice” said Seidenwurm. “The kids were non-responsive, disorderly, and frequently rude to us. It was like pulling teeth to get them to respond with a yes or no, much less venture an opinion. But, there were a few glimmers of hope and the next month’s book was more to their liking and a few of the kids began to participate and told us when the book resonated for them and when it didn’t.”
The initial lack of interest in reading seen by Gruby and Seidenwurm is not unusual according to Daniel. She described how Star Testing measures reading and language proficiency. “Last year, 48% of San Diego students were at or below basic proficiency. Students who are below basic proficiency in third grade are much less likely to graduate from high school. Up until third grade, students are learning how to read. After that, they are reading to learn.”
After several months of working with the kids at Choice, Seidenwurm realized his kids were moving into the category of reading to learn. He found himself spending time with students after the scheduled reading and book club sessions. He said, “Book group sessions are a monthly highlight at Choice and the participation gets better and better. I just facilitated a discussion of a book of early poetry by Tupac Shakur where six of them co-facilitated.”
Gruby, while dealing with a very different age group, has seen similar progress with her kids. She said, “At the beginning of the year many children are not interested in the books we read, but at the end we see beginning readers, interested listeners and enthusiastic learners. Watching this growth is one of the most rewarding parts of this program. When I walk in the room and am greeted enthusiastically with questions about past books, I know we are reaching the children.”
In 2010, Seidenwurm became so involved with the kids that he started a creative writing program for the kids at Choice. He found that some of the kids were reluctant to write fiction. Seidenwurm described how he got the kids to change their attitudes about writing. “I usually begin with a reading from a novel or short story or talk to them about my travels or my life and then give them a choice of writing prompts and ask them to write a story or essay or poem. They need lots of encouragement just to put pen to paper, but they’ve gotten braver and braver as they’ve learned to trust me, their classmates and themselves.”
As the kids opened up, Seidenwurm experimented by asking them to write a short story about him. Their responses completely surprised him. “One of them portrayed me as the head of a drug cartel, another as a master tagger, and a third as the oldest astronaut preparing to embark on a mission to Mars.”
These volunteers have found their participation in literacy programs to be highly rewarding. Seidenwurm said, “You should volunteer for Words Alive’s teen programs to show these troubled adolescents that there are adults out there who care about them and want to enrich their lives and experiences. And maybe just maybe you will be lucky enough to share an ‘aha’ moment or two as a bonus.”
Gruby added, “I often encourage people to volunteer. Many of those I encounter are retired teachers and I tell them how rewarding the program is to volunteers as well as the children. Not only can they make a difference, it beats going to exercise class every day! I tell them when they see smiles on the children’s faces, they will be hooked. The emergent reading years are the most important and we as volunteers have the opportunity to impart our experiences as well as utilize our creative ideas. Words Alive gives volunteers the opportunity to keep learning by working with stimulating people.”
Words Alive works with schools and school districts to provide literacy programs to approximately 8,000 at-risk teens and low-income children and families each month. Programs are provided monthly and/or weekly based on need. Learn more about Words Alive on their website at www.wordsalive.org.
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