By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley)– James Watson knows full well the importance of being able to read proficiently.
When he entered the fourth grade, a few years after his father died and he became a latch-key kid (meaning he came home from school to an empty home), it was determined that his reading level was significantly below grade level.
“And then I was put into a smaller class, six students, a new teacher,” said Watson, for whom, with his wife Judy, the Watson & Associates Literacy Center at Cal State San Bernardino is named. “Within weeks, I was loving reading. That class was the most important class all the way through university and beyond. It was the basis of my social success, financial success, business success.”
The literacy center, housed in CSUSB’s College of Education, celebrated its 15th anniversary on Nov. 15 when it hosted a Family Literacy Celebration.
The family event featured story reading, a book signing with local authors Judith Valles, Lauren Briggs and Diane Adams, pop-up book making, art activity, write around story and music activity, free books, along with parent workshops on literacy and other programs.
Founded in 2004, the Watson & Associates Literacy Center is a component of CSUSB’s College of Education. Its mission is to assist students, grades kindergarten through 12, to improve their listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. Funded by a generous grant from Watson & Associates, the center offers interactive tutoring within carefully designed programs.
Its importance in increasing literacy of young students cannot be underestimated.
“Literacy diminishes poverty, reduces crime, contributes to economic growth, promotes democracy, increases civic engagement, improves communication, and builds confidence and self-esteem,” said CSUSB President Tomás D. Morales during a welcome message that opened the celebration. “As a university, we are dedicated to student success. Without the benefits literacy provides, the ability for any student to succeed is extremely limited.”
And numbers bear out how important it is for people to be proficient at reading, comprehension and writing.
“Estimates indicate that there are more than 32 million adults nationwide who cannot read,” Morales said. “That is more than the population of New York and Ohio combined. Imagine not being able to read signs, comprehend a bus schedule or explain problems to emergency personnel. In addition, imagine the frustration of finding a job, paying bills or being able to vote.”
In San Bernardino County, he said, 69 percent of third grade students do not meet current California literacy standards. That’s an important statistic because research indicates that students who are proficient in reading by the end of their third grade year are more likely to graduate from high school and become economically successful adults.
“Such numbers should concern everyone who lives and works in the Inland Empire,” Morales said. “They command attention and require action to improve the quality of life here.”
Chinaka DomNwachukwu, dean of the College of Education, said that literacy goes beyond reading and writing and includes “a whole lot of things that matter in the overall development of a person, especially a child.” It helps a person make meaning of things around them, develops self-confidence and engage in communication.
“When we talk about investment in the area of literacy development, it is an investment that pays a dividend for the rest of a child’s life,” DomNwachukwu said. “It’s like opening a door that is otherwise closed.”
Because of that, the investment in literacy through the Watson & Associates Literacy Center “is an invaluable investment. It’s an investment that lives through the life of every child who has gone through this place.”
Andrea Street, the center’s interim director, said that she considered herself literate – until she bought a new car that came with a new insurance policy. Street said she read every word on the 15-page policy, twice, and still couldn’t understand it. Eventually she contacted the insurance company to explain it to her.
That made Street realize that there are certain literacy skills she lacks. “And that got me thinking of what literacy is. Like what Dr. Morales and Dean DomNwachukwu mentioned, literacy encompasses our whole lives.”
Said Watson, “It encompasses everything. If you can’t read, you have to be far more inventive to solve problems, and very few people have that capacity to be able to solve issues without the ability to read.”
The Watson & Associates Literacy Center is designed to provide tutoring services to students who have not yet achieved grade-level proficiency in literacy, or to any student who would benefit from individual support to advance their skills. Tutoring services are provided by America Reads tutors and volunteer tutors who are enrolled in courses in the CSUSB College of Education.
The Literacy Center provides one-to-one literacy tutoring in all four domains of literacy: listening, speaking, writing and reading to children, in grades kindergarten through 12, four afternoons each week, Monday – Thursday, 3:30-4:30 p.m. and 4:30-5:30 p.m. The tutoring sessions are one day per week for each tutee, one hour per session, and are provided for eight weeks during the fall, winter, and spring quarters of the university.
For the last week of tutoring, parents and families are invited to attend a Writing Celebration that highlights and celebrates their student’s writing projects completed during tutoring.
Visit the Watson & Associates Literacy Center’s website for information on its programs.