LET Schools In The News

Literacy grant goes to S. Paula


Three schools in Santa Paula will split $600,000 for a new program that aims to teach children to read and write in English by teaching their parents, too.

The Santa Paula Elementary School District was one of five districts in the country to win grants this year from the Toyota Family Literacy Program. School officials and representatives from Toyota and the National Center for Family Literacy announced the grant Friday at Glen City School in Santa Paula.

More than 100 families already have enrolled in the program at three Santa Paula elementary schools: Glen City, Grace Thille and Barbara Webster. Parents, most of them recent immigrants from Latin America, sit beside their children during English classes and attend separate classes in the evenings, learning both English and parenting skills.

"At the end of the program, I will be able to have better communication with my children and get a better job," said Herminia Tinajero, who is in the program with her son, a first-grader at Glen City.

Sharon Darling, the founder and president of the National Center for Family Literacy, said students in family literacy programs show improvement in their grades, test scores and attendance. They grow up with a greater respect for education, because their parents read to them at a young age and can understand what they are studying in school.

"The home is the first school and the parents are the first teachers, and by attending this program you are showing your children how important education is," Darling said.

Santa Paula joins districts throughout the county in educating parents as well as children, though
few programs are as comprehensive or well-funded as the Toyota Family Literacy Program. The
Ventura Unified and Hueneme school districts use a program from a Texas company called
Lake Educational Technologies (L-E-T, inc.)*.

"It's been a big success," said Jennifer Robles, the director of bilingual programs at Ventura Unified. "The families really buy in, and they keep it up through the course of the school year."

Toyota's grant will fund the program in Santa Paula for three years. Santa Paula Elementary Superintendent Luis Villegas said he's already begun scouting for state, federal and private grants to keep it going.

Toyota handed out $3 million in grants to five school districts this year, joining five other districts that received grants in 2003. With the exception of Santa Paula, every district in the program is in an urban area.

"What really excited me about Santa Paula is that we've always been in big cities, and this will give us an opportunity to really look at smaller communities, and give us tools to use in other small communities," Darling said.

Santa Paula is a perfect fit for the program, she said, mostly because of its high concentration of Hispanic immigrants and non-English speakers. About two thirds of the students at Glen City, Grace Thille and Barbara Webster are classified as English-language learners, according to California Department of Education records.

Santa Paula also happens to be the hometown of Patricia Pineda, a vice president with Toyota Motor North America. Pineda said her connection to Santa Paula had nothing to do with why it was chosen.

"As a Mexican-American who grew up literally around the corner from here, I feel very fortunate that my parents, who were not raised with English as their first language, saw education as a top priority," Pineda said. "We want to give other children that same opportunity."

April 8, 2006 by Tony Biasotti, [email protected]
* in 2010 Lake Educational Technologies (L-E-T, inc.) became BilingualFamilyReading.com