Federation Grantee Promotes Literacy in the Bay Area

Jewish Coalition for Literacy Helps Students and Parents Learn to Love Reading

When I was a little girl, my favorite time of day was story-time. After I got ready for bed, I would pick out one of my favorite books and my mother would tuck me in and sit next to my pillow. She would then read aloud as I listened and drifted off to sleep, cocooned in stories of dragons and princesses and children who would not eat their vegetables. I remember my excitement the day I looked down at the page and discovered I could follow along and read the words along with my mother, the stories I loved leaping off of the page.

For many children, there is no story-time. The only exposure they get to reading is in the classroom, and for many, this simply isn’t enough. That’s why the Jewish Coalition for Literacy (JCL) is committed to helping these struggling children in underserved schools learn to love reading by matching them with volunteer reading tutors, giving them the help that they need to succeed. But classroom instruction and weekly tutoring need to be reinforced at home for these students to reach grade-level reading.

JCL believes that boosting reading skills at a young age is crucial for future success and, in order for students to get the most out of school and tutoring programs like JCL, they should also have reading support at home. Therefore, JCL offers workshops for parents who want to practice basic English vocabulary, pronunciation, and structure so that they can read books at home along with their children. During the fall of 2013 alone, JCL conducted more than 30 parent workshops in public schools across the Bay Area, helping communities that are often marginalized and underserved.

JCL collaborates closely with partner schools to ensure the maximum success of the workshops by engaging parents and teachers, providing a private space for adults to learn, and even offering child care. Phyllis Harrison, principal of North Shoreview Montessori School in San Mateo and long-time JCL partner, believes that JCL’s parent workshops have a multi-generational effect on families, benefiting the parents who come to the workshop, their children who now benefit from a reading-friendly home, and consequently, future generations in the family. “By coming to their child’s school every week, parents need and want to know that North Shoreview is their child’s home away for home,” Harrison told JCL.

Parents love the workshops as well, which provide them with the skills they need to help their children excel. Mothers, fathers, and guardians are their children’s first teachers, and the most trusted person in their sons’ and daughters’ lives. By partnering with JCL, they ensure a better future for their children. Sara L. Gomez, who faithfully goes to JCL’s “Reading Together in English” workshop every Tuesday morning at Buena Vista/Horace Mann Elementary School in San Francisco, told JCL: “I love to learn English so that I can help my daughter.” Dina Estevez, another regular at the Tuesday session, added that “it is very fun and we practice a lot of English.”

JCL Reading Specialist, Joan Green, with parents at North Shoreview Elementary School in San Mateo

It is thanks to this enthusiasm and growing interest that JCL has added to its repertoire of parent training workshops. JCL began providing its parent education program in 2007 with its “Let’s Read at Home” workshop, but because of this growing demand, it has since added “Reading Together in English” and “Preventing Summer Reading Loss” workshops.

Joan Green, the JCL Reading Specialist who provides parent workshops in both San Francisco and the Peninsula, believes that “the support of parents is crucial to kids’ education.” Joan is fluent in Spanish, and able to put many of the non-native English-speaking parents at ease. According to Joan, “the biggest challenge is to reach enough parents, and then help them build the confidence to assume academic support roles at home.” But, despite this challenge, once JCL successfully reaches parents, “they are so excited to hear that they have an important role to play and that their participation makes a difference in their child's school experience.”

JCL Literacy Trainer, Barbara Pearl, at El Monte Elementary School in Concord

Barbara Pearl, who conducts parent workshops in the East Bay, notes that these trainings are a great way to connect parents in the community. Barbara says she “hopes that each and every parent leaves my workshop knowing they can help their child read. That just talking, sharing stories and reading together will support their child for future success in school and in life.”  While the workshops may focus on specific skills and strategies for reading with children, a large part of every session is spent on parents sharing the struggles they face in helping their child read. A parent from El Monte Elementary School in Concord, Carmela Pena, told JCL that the trainings are “very interesting because everything is geared towards teaching our kids something new.” JCL’s workshops are developing a new cadre of parents committed to their children’s reading success, and to creating supportive home reading experiences. Together, we are making story-time the new favorite time of day.

Madeline S. Collazo is the AmeriCorps VISTA Program Associate at the Jewish Coalition for Literacy.

Become a JCL tutor: Register for a free tutor training workshop at www.jclread.org. The next session will be held on Sunday, May 4 at 10:00 am at Peninsula Sinai Congregation (499 Boothbay Avenue, Foster City).

The Jewish Coalition for Literacy is funded in part by a $85,000 annual grant from our Community Core Fund and is a joint project of Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.


April 23, 2014


Madeline S. Collazo