Par­ents, chil­dren build lit­er­acy skills

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - BRENDA BER­NET

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 first- through 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.”


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.


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.”


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.

NWA Demo­crat Gazette/SPENCER TIREY

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.

NWA Demo­crat Gazette/SPENCER TIREY

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.

NWA Demo­crat Gazette/SPENCER TIREY

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.

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