By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley) – Each of the nearly 90 second-graders at Grand Terrace Elementary School sat in rapt attention as they listened to “Curious George Visits a Toy Store” being read to them.
Divided into four groups, the children’s animated expressions, smiles and giggles showed their delight at the little monkey’s latest adventures as four distinguished visitors read to them to celebrate International Literacy Day.
But there was still a big surprise to come. Each of the second-graders and all of their fellow students at Grand Terrace Elementary received a free children’s book as part of the international event. The free book giveaways was repeated later in the day, where 1,100 books were given away to all the students at Hoover Elementary School in Indio. Nearly 2,000 free books would be given at the two distributions, which are expected to be the first of many to schools in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
The book giveaways were the result of a collaboration to reduce illiteracy in the two-county region by Cal State San Bernardino’s College of Education, the Watson and Associates Literacy Center, which is housed at CSUSB, and The Molina Foundation, which made the initial gift of books to be distributed, valued at more than $15,000.
“We join millions of children, parents, teachers and educators around the globe to celebrate literacy,” said CSUSB President Tomás Morales, who spoke to the second-graders students along teachers and staff from Grand Terrace Elementary on the importance of literacy. “Reading sets the stage for future success in schools and in their everyday lives.”
“Literacy is important, especially by the third grade level,” said Jerry Almendarez, the superintendent of the Colton Joint Unified School District, who was one of the readers. Joanne Thoring-Ojejda, who is a board member of the school district, joined the superintendent in reading to the children.
The two schools were chosen because they are both designated Title I schools, which under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 provides funding to schools that have 40 percent of their student population from low-income families. The funding is designed to help students who are at risk of falling behind.
In addition, Grand Terrace Elementary was chosen for its ongoing work with the Watson and Associates Literacy Center in training 10 parents to become tutors at the school. Hoover Elementary was also chosen to demonstrate the commitment of Cal State San Bernardino, its College of Education and the literacy center in supporting children and families throughout Riverside County.
The Molina Foundation joined in the collaboration as part of its commitment to reduce illiteracy, said Faustino Bernadett, the foundation’s vice president, who also read to the children.
“The Molina Foundation’s goal is to make sure that books and other educational resources are provided to schools, community and civic organizations serving children from low-income or at-risk families,” Bernadett said. “The foundation has a special interest in supporting programs working with English language learners and/or serving low-income Hispanic children and families.”
Founded in 2004, the Watson and Associates Literacy Center was created to assist students, grades kindergarten through 12, in improving their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills, said the center’s director, Catherine Terrell. The center offers one-to-one tutoring services to children who are not meeting grade level proficiency in literacy. The center was named in honor of Watson and Associates for its generosity in establishing and funding $1 million toward the center.
The Watson and Associates Literacy Center also collaborates with school districts that currently work with the CSUSB College of Education to allow their students to conduct their student-teaching/intern programs.
For James Watson, president and chief executive officer of Watson and Associates, who also read to the children, literacy has a personal note. Watson was raised by his mother after his father died when he was 6 years old. He had trouble reading as a child and entered the fourth grade with poor reading skills. But with the help of a very dedicated teacher, within a month his reading skills had improved significantly. Watson still considers that class the most significant he has ever taken, even up to college.
International Literacy Day is promoted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to promote the significance of literacy for healthy societies. According to UNESCO, about 774 million adults lack the minimum literacy skills. One in five adults is still not literate and two-thirds of them are women. About 75 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out.