Parents, children build literacy skills
SPRINGDALE — Rosalva Juarez sat one morning in the George Elementary School cafeteria with her 5-year-old daughter, turning pages and underlining words with her finger as they listened to a story about salsa dancing read in English and Spanish.
A short time later, parents and children from Wobbe Lane Apartments gathered in the parking lot near their homes to hear the same story, play drums and dance.
Except this time, story time also included a trilingual reading of a story about the people of the island of Imroj. Resident parent Richard Laraya read the story in Marshallese, while two others took turns reading passages
in English and Spanish. Educators from Monitor Elementary School brought books, and volunteers from Bread of Life ministry at First United Methodist Church in Springdale brought lunches.
The weekly Feed Your Brain story times will be offered through the summer by OneCommunity Reads, UnaCommunidad Leyendo. The program at Wobbe Lane Apartments is for families who live there. The program also is offered for families at George Elementary, Elmdale Elementary and Parson Hills Elementary.
Feed Your Brain is a free bilingual summer reading series started in 2013 by the nonprofit OneCommunity Reads, Una Communidad Leyendo. The nonprofit group was co-founded in 2009 by Diana Gonzales Worthen, an educator who has worked for the Rogers and Springdale school districts and is now at the University of Arkansas, and Al “Papa Rap” Lopez, a musician and motivational speaker who also is a community liaison for the Springdale School District.
One focus of the nonprofit group is helping immigrant parents who are learning English become more involved in their schools and community, Worthen said.
Many children who are learning English have greater difficulty reading on grade-level because they are learning the language and content at the same time, Worthen said. In school, children are learning to read from kindergarten through third grade. In fourth grade, children need to read to learn, she said.
Participation in Feed Your Brain varies from week to week, but last summer five sites together reached 245 children who read 1,800 books, Worthen said. The program reduced summer learning loss among children who were rising firstthrough fourth-graders at Jones and George elementary schools.
“We want to create a culture of reading in the home,” Worthen said. “Reading should be fun. Learning should be fun, but we’re doing it together as a family.”
RHYTHMS AND STORIES
On a recent Monday at George Elementary, Lopez put drums in front of children and gave others shakers. Within a few minutes, the children were playing along with the cadence of “Papa Rap.”
Opening the reading program with music activities gives children a chance to stretch and exercise, said Lourdes “Lulu” Lopez, a parent facilitator. She is not related to Al Lopez.
The program continued with Lulu Lopez giving parents tips they could use at home to help their children read. Tips included making note of new words, predicting story events and having their children find a special spot at home for reading books.
Then it was time for the story.
Children exercise their brains and keep up their literacy reading level through the summer when they read books, said Lulu Lopez, who has two sons in the Springdale School District. The program gives parents access to bilingual books they can take home. The children and parents can help each other with pronouncing words in Spanish and English.
Children who are bilingual will have more opportunities in jobs and in life, Lulu Lopez said.
“I feel good and enjoy this program, working with the parents and the kids,” she said.
Nely Flores and her sons read at night before they go to bed. Her sons are going into the first and second grades at Jones Elementary School and enjoy reading books about LEGOs, she said.
The boys read more at home when they participate in Feed Your Brain, she said. She has taken on a leadership role in this, her second year.
“It’s like you don’t feel bored,” Ethan Flores, 6, said during Feed Your Brain on June 26. “You feel like you’re having some fun. You get to take home books.”
Parents with babies learn it’s important to begin reading early, Worthen said. When parents read stories to their children from birth, they are expected to hear 30 million words by the time they enter kindergarten, she said.
Parents learn it’s beneficial for children to continue building literacy skills in English and in their first language, Worthen said.
“If they’re strong in that native language, if they’re able to read and write in that native language, those literacy skills can transfer over to a new language they’re learning,” Worthen said. “The stronger they are in their own native language, that transfer to the second language is going to be much easier for the students.”
Worthen also is director of a University of Arkansas English-as-a-second-language endorsement program that helps teachers work more effectively with English language learners and their families.
INVOLVING FAMILIES FROM DIFFERENT CULTURES
OneCommunity’s programs stand out for their effectiveness in involving parents, said Kim Stauss, associate professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Children involved in Feed Your Brain have fun because they are dancing, making music and earning prizes for meeting reading goals.
OneCommunity also organizes weekly events for parents involved in Parents Taking Leadership Action. The focus of that program is helping parents develop leadership skills and assisting them in communicating with their schools.
Parents relate to OneCommunity’s programs because the content is in their language and because it is relevant to their culture, Stauss said. Parents who have been involved are recruited to help lead. Other parents realize they are just like the parents leading, she said.
Stauss, and two others from the university, received a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation to study the impact of reading programs that are part of the Arkansas Grade-Level Reading Campaign initiative. The team spent time talking to parents about how the programs affected their children.
Other schools have not been as successful at drawing parents, Stauss said. Programs are less effective in attracting parents if the content is in one language and if it does not relate to the culture of the family. It goes beyond bringing in a Spanish speaker to translate, she said.
Participation increases when programs relate to the language and culture of the families, Stauss said.
“The parents appreciate that,” Stauss said. “Any time we bring parents into the school to work with the school, our kids are going to thrive.”
IN THE BEGINNING
OneCommunity formed from the years of experiences Worthen and Al Lopez had from working within the Springdale community and in the schools. The organization has received funding from Springdale School District and Champions for Kids, in addition to the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. Organizations also donate books.
Organizers of OneCommunity hope to grow the program and are seeking additional grant funding to take the program to more children’s homes, like the program at Wobbe Lane Apartments, Worthen said.
“Many of the families that we serve, they’re not able to afford going to a lot of summer enrichment activities,” Worthen said.
Laraya, the Wobbe Lane Apartments resident, remembers seeing the weekly gatherings of families last summer at his apartment complex. He was standing in line for lunch during Feed Your Brain a few weeks ago when Worthen asked him to help Feed Your Brain.
He likes that hearing stories that relate to the Marshall Islands.
And his 5-year-old son Walton was looking forward to reading a book about sharks.
Lula Lopez, with Feed Your Brain programs, reads Monday as volunteers Venessa Almazan and sister Erika Almazan follow along in a class at George Elementary School in Springdale. The program helps combat summer learning loss and promotes literacy among families, especially families who speak limited English.
Nely Flores with Feed Your Brain programs talks to students Monday at George Elementary School about one of the books they are using to encouraged reading through the summer. During the program, parents and children hear tips in Spanish, and stories are read in English and Spanish.
Rosaiva Juarez reads with Michelle Portilla during a session Monday at George Elementary School at the Feed Your Brain programs. The program helps to combat summer learning loss and to promote literacy among families, especially immigrant families who speak limited English.