Is Literacy a Constitutional Right?

By Jennifer Van Pelt

 A Words Alive graphic that says, "Literacy is the foundation of community and economic development. When everyone can read, whole communities thrive. We read to live full, independent lives. We read to...." The following list includes statements such as "apply for jobs that pay a living wage", "advocate for our families", and "vote or write to our elected officials."

A Words Alive graphic that says, "Literacy is the foundation of community and economic development. When everyone can read, whole communities thrive. We read to live full, independent lives. We read to...." The following list includes statements such as "apply for jobs that pay a living wage", "advocate for our families", and "vote or write to our elected officials."

A lawsuit filed in 2016 to establish literacy as a U.S. Constitutional right was struck down by a federal judge last month. The suit argued that Detroit students are excluded from the state’s education system, thus violating their rights under the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. These clauses say that no state can deny any person life, liberty, or property without due process of the law and also prevents states from denying equal protection of the laws to any person.

An article from the Detroit News details the fact that though the Constitution does not explicitly guarantee the right to education, the Supreme Court has not confirmed nor denied it either. The judge also wrote that the case needed further supports to prove their case, which leaves room for this case to come back and be tried later to help support students from Detroit and across the nation.

Why Is This Case So Important?

In 2017, the US Department of Education found that 65% of fourth-grade children nationwide were not proficient in reading. When so many children have fallen behind before they are halfway through their schooling, it is difficult for them to successfully continue and complete their education. When looking at the high school completion rates, the National Center for Education Statistics states that for the 2015-2016 school year, 1 out of 6 students failed to graduate with a high school diploma within 4 years of starting 9th grade.

Without a high school diploma, finding a job that pays a living wage is increasingly difficult. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2017 data, a full-time worker without a high school diploma earns a median weekly wage of $515, while a worker with a high school diploma earns $718. When these individuals are successful in high school and have the skill set to pursue higher education, they earn a median salary over double that of someone who didn’t complete high school: $1,189 weekly wages for those with a bachelor’s degree. This demonstrates how the literacy skills that are taught in early years of school can lay the entire foundation for the future of a child’s life. Currently, about 20% of adults in the United States are not earning a salary considered to be “a living wage.” Furthermore, applying for jobs and filling out employment forms also require reading and writing skills, making it difficult for these individuals to improve their situation.

 A picture of a child in our Read Aloud Program holding the book "Are You My Mother?" while smiling.

A picture of a child in our Read Aloud Program holding the book "Are You My Mother?" while smiling.

By failing to provide the proper education for these children, the government may experience higher costs in healthcare as well. Literate adults have the knowledge and skills to seek out more preventative forms of healthcare including contraception use. According to debt.org, it is estimated that $18 billion could be saved annually if patients who have non-urgent/avoidable medical concerns were to take advantage of preventative health care instead of relying on emergency rooms for their medical needs. Emergency rooms are required by federal law to provide care for all patients, despite if they have insurance or are unable to pay, meaning that it is a popular choice for those who are disadvantaged.

There are countless more studies that show that illiteracy is connected to other undesirable life outcomes, including incarceration and reliance on public assistance programs. To illustrate, 3 out of 5 people in American prisons can’t read, and once they do leave the prison system, there aren’t any programs that allow them the opportunity to learn how to read in order to properly apply for a job. According to an article on The Observer, arming inmates with a solid education is one of the surest ways of reducing the rate at which they end up back behind bars after being released. The prison system is beginning to make moves to address these issues, but the real change needs to happen before these individuals are incarcerated by providing them with the education and tools to develop a healthy, independent lifestyle.

At Words Alive, we’ve created a “Why Literacy Matters” graphic (included above), illustrating how literacy is present in daily life and how necessary literacy is for living a full and independent life. Declaring literacy as a constitutional right would make these day to day tasks possible for everyone, allowing them to create a life for themselves that they are able to choose. Providing high-quality literacy education and opportunities at the beginning of these children’s lives is the start to building a generation that is able to accomplish their goals and achieve heights their parents were not able to. Because literacy tends to be “passed down”, meaning that it is difficult for an illiterate guardian to help a child read or do homework, it is important that the children today have the proper education and the right to break this cycle of illiteracy.

If you are interested in helping the literacy cause closer to home in San Diego, visit our volunteering page here.

Sources:

https://amp.detroitnews.com/amp/747738002

https://www.debt.org/medical/emergency-room-urgent-care-costs/

https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_coi.asp

http://observer.com/2017/07/prison-illiteracy-criminal-justice-reform/

80% of Students Develop a Positive Attitude Toward Books: The Impact of Adolescent Book Group

By Jennifer Van Pelt

Words Alive’s Adolescent Book Group has wrapped up for the school year, so we would like to take a deeper look at what the program entailed, our successes, and what the participating students had to say about it!

 An image of one of our Words Alive Westreich Scholarship students facilitating a book discussion at La Mesa Community School.

An image of one of our Words Alive Westreich Scholarship students facilitating a book discussion at La Mesa Community School.

What is the Adolescent Book Group?

In 2018, our Adolescent Book Group (ABG) worked in 19 different classrooms that are within the Juvenile Court and Community School System. Across all classes, our participants read 41 books over the course of the school year.

Our ABG Program works to achieve three main goals: help students develop an enduring commitment to reading, become life-long learners, and become an advocate for themselves and their futures. In order to develop a commitment to reading, students are exposed to books with inspiring and life-changing themes that they are able to analyze and discuss further with their peers, teachers, and Words Alive volunteers. In 2018, 80.24% of students agreed that ABG has helped them develop a positive attitude toward books while 85.19% of students agreed that ABG has helped their ability to express themselves in group discussions. Luis, a 17 year old high school student said, “I thought this program was very helpful to me and made me want to read more. I really never liked reading until I got out to a program like this.” Developing a positive attitude towards reading opens up countless opportunities to continue learning by either teaching yourself or motivating yourself to pursue higher education.

Our participants are able to move towards the goal of becoming life-long learners because they are given the opportunity to learn and recognize their own ability to seek out information to solve problems, acquire critical thinking skills, and use the needed skills to successfully transition into a post-secondary education or a career after school. 8/8 teachers surveyed said ABG helped their students achieve the common core standards of determining and analyzing themes, analyzing the development of complex characters, propelling conversations by posing and responding to questions. In an environment that is very heavily influenced by a student’s performance in Common Core standards, this is an area important to address. A classroom teacher from one of our schools said, “The volunteers were well prepared and extremely helpful in moving the conversation forward, talking about their experiences and how they felt as they read the book. The behavior they modeled helped the students to discuss the topic from the perspective of their own experience.” Having additional positive role models in the classroom are also helpful for these teens as they near a turning point in their lives.

Our last main goal, to help students become advocates for themselves and their futures, is obtained by not only increasing the participant’s self-confidence in the classroom but also learning their voice as a reader, writer, and a speaker as they work towards personal, educational, and career goals. 80.25% of students agreed that ABG has helped their ability to express themselves through writing and 83.75% of students agreed that ABG has helped their ability to make connections between what they read, their life, and their world. Jamie, a 15 year old who participated in our ABG program said, “I liked the creative writing because I had more stories than what I thought I had and I got a chance to show them to people.” Taylor, an 18 year old High School student said, “I liked the discussions because I was able to speak what was on my mind and put ideas in other students’ minds.” Having the confidence to share your ideas through written and spoken methods are important in becoming empowered to achieve your goals.

 An image of one of our students from 37ECB working on a black out poem. The image features a page of a book and the student's hand.

An image of one of our students from 37ECB working on a black out poem. The image features a page of a book and the student's hand.

Across all 11 schools we work with, we have achieved top results. As we look for further ways to improve our program, we will continue to follow up with our student participants, teachers, and volunteers for productive feedback. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer yourself or would like to find out more information about attending our Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser to support programs such as our Adolescent Book Group, head to our main page here!

What Does it Mean to Volunteer at Words Alive? (Part 2)

By Jennifer Van Pelt

This article is part of a series in which we highlight and celebrate stories from our volunteers, and explore what it means to volunteer at Words Alive. Read Part 1 here.

Our volunteers and donors at Words Alive enable us to serve over 5,000 students and families every year, and we would truly be unable to work towards our goal of inspiring a commitment to reading throughout San Diego County without all of their support. These volunteers are not only able to connect with students and exceed expectations when teaching in the classroom, but they are also passionate about the difference they make in student’s lives! They eagerly come back week after week because they enjoy working with children and they are able to see the inspiration they incite and change they make in the future of the children and their families. Read below for some first hand stories as to why our volunteers love being a part of our Words Alive family!

 An image of Katherine Finley, Office and Teen Services Intern, with Jessica Fryman, Teen Services Program Manager, at the 2017 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony.

An image of Katherine Finley, Office and Teen Services Intern, with Jessica Fryman, Teen Services Program Manager, at the 2017 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony.

Katherine Finley, Office and Teen Services Support Intern, said: “It is extremely gratifying knowing that I’m working with a cause that helps others discover and foster a love of reading. The impact Words Alive has is especially visible when attending the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony and hearing the heartfelt stories of students improving their literacy skills and their futures.”

Many of our volunteers get involved with Words Alive as a way to continue their love for teaching or get involved in a career they perhaps weren’t able to pursue previously. Karen Malin, a Read Aloud Program and Event Committee Volunteer, said: “My volunteer work with Words Alive gives me the opportunity to tap into my varied experience acquired from 40 years in education. Whether writing curriculum, working with preschool parents, sharing the message of the importance of early literacy or reading with first graders (my favorite!) I am excited to be making a difference in the lives of children and families. Volunteering with Words Alive is energizing, fulfilling and a lot of fun!”

 An image of Karen Malin, Read Aloud Program and Event Committee Volunteer, accepting an award at Councilmember Lorie Zapf's Volunteer Appreciation Day.

An image of Karen Malin, Read Aloud Program and Event Committee Volunteer, accepting an award at Councilmember Lorie Zapf's Volunteer Appreciation Day.

Julie Adams, a Words Alive Read Aloud Program volunteer is a retired speech/language pathologist. Part of her work included the encouragement of reading and discussing books as a family so vocabulary, language comprehension, and oral communication could improve. In retirement, she still strongly supports this development of pre-literacy and literacy skills by volunteering with Words Alive. She said, “I like to think that sharing a love of books with young children (and their teachers and parents) will be a kind of contagious act, infecting the receptive eyes, ears and minds of the listeners with a bug to read another good book...It’s exciting to see delight in the reaction of kids who suddenly figure out the meaning of an author’s “play with words”, or are able to point to and count words in a title, or notice an illustrator’s clue about what’s coming next, or share an emotion of a book character they like. Though it doesn’t happen with every book, it’s definitely reinforcing to me as a reader when kids spontaneously clap as the book ends and there is a clamor from the children to “read it again.” Why do I continue to volunteer with Words Alive? I hope I’m helping kids develop some of the very basic early literacy skills that will give them succeed as they move to formal reading instruction in school, and just as importantly, helping them develop a life-long love of books and reading.”

Petra Bauer-Ryan, an Adolescent Book Group Volunteer, has said, “I could not think of a more worthy cause. Sharing my passion for books and love for reading with these young minds and seeing them challenging themselves and growing is more rewarding and inspiring than I could put into words.”

These are just a few stories about the rewarding and inspiring experiences that our volunteers are able to enjoy every week with our students and families. As an organization with over 550 volunteers, there are countless more experiences to be shared by existing volunteers and even more to come from future volunteers! Whether you are a book-lover or enjoy teaching others, there are several different ways to bring your passion into the classroom. To get involved in supporting our mission of improving literacy in San Diego, visit our page here to review the opportunities and create a story of your own!

Celebrating Our Graduating Scholars: Zaphire Alonso Duarte!

"The Words Alive program has been my support system personally and academically. I am extremely thankful for all the people who are part of the staff.." -- Zaphire Alonso Duarte, Words Alive Westreich Scholar

 A picture of Zaphire at her graduation from San Diego City College.

A picture of Zaphire at her graduation from San Diego City College.

The Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program awards scholarships to participants in the Words Alive Adolescent Book Group to support them in their pursuit of higher education at the college or vocational level. Unlike other scholarship programs, which typically fund only tuition, books and educational supplies, each recipient is eligible to receive funds to cover the cost of rent, food, childcare, clothing, travel and other living expenses. Additionally, the program matches each recipient with a mentor. Student and mentor meet regularly throughout the school year, and the mentors provide guidance, direction, and often, a shoulder to lean on.

In the past month, we have seen three of our scholarship students, Domminiece Willis, Zaphire Alonso Duarte, and Lexi Martinez, graduate from community college with associate's degrees. All three students graduated on May 25, 2018, Domminiece from Southwestern College and Zaphire and Lexi from City College.

Words Alive is thrilled to have been a part of the journey towards success for all of these wonderful students. We are so proud of all of them; they embody what it means to persevere and thrive.

We interviewed Zaphire Alonso Duarte to learn more about her college experience and her experience with the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program.

Read on:

 A picture of Zaphire with her mentor, Tammy Greenwood, at Zaphire's graduation from San Diego City College.

A picture of Zaphire with her mentor, Tammy Greenwood, at Zaphire's graduation from San Diego City College.

Name: Zaphire Alonso Duarte

Age: 22

College: San Diego City College (will be attending San Diego State University in Fall 2018)

Degree (with area of study): Social Work

High School: Monarch School

Mentor: Tammy Greenwood

1. When were you first introduced to Words Alive?

I started being involved in Words Alive Adolescent Book Group during high school, since I was in 11th grade. I learned a lot of different books, and that opened me up to read more books. After high school in 2014, Words Alive has been my support system.

2. How has your experience with Words Alive affected you?

Words Alive has helped me more than just financially. The Words Alive program has been my support system personally and academically. I am extremely thankful for all the people who are part of the staff, they are the best in always being on top of our things.

3. What have you accomplished this year that you are most proud of?

I have graduated from San Diego City College after four years, and will be transferring to San Diego State University.

4. Tell us about your favorite college memory.

My favorite college memory was being able to have great moments with my classmates, for example take time out of class to go to the beach or to the movies.

Introducing Mary Kubica: Featured Author of our 15th Annual Author's Luncheon & Fundraiser!

By Jennifer Van Pelt

 An image of Mary Kubica, the featured author for our 15th Annual Author's Luncheon & Fundraiser!

An image of Mary Kubica, the featured author for our 15th Annual Author's Luncheon & Fundraiser!

We recently announced that our 15th Annual Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser will feature New York Times and USA Today Best-Selling Author Mary Kubica! The event will be held on Friday, October 19th at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina.

Mary Kubica is most widely known for her thriller/mystery debut novel The Good Girl.

One night, Mia Dennett enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn't show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. At first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia's life. 

When Colin decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota instead of delivering her to his employers, Mia's mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them. But no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family's world to shatter. -
Synopsis of The Good Girl from Goodreads

She also has written three other fiction novels: Pretty Baby, Don’t You Cry, and Every Last Lie. Her books have been translated into over twenty languages and she is currently working on a fifth novel that is due to be released September 4, 2018. Each Author’s Luncheon attendee will receive a copy of her new book, When the Lights Go Out, just weeks after it is released!

 Image of the book cover for When the Lights Go Out. The tagline for the book is: Insomnia has taken her sleep, now it's taking her mind.

Image of the book cover for When the Lights Go Out. The tagline for the book is: Insomnia has taken her sleep, now it's taking her mind.

Megan Miranda, New York Times bestselling author of All the Missing Girls said about Kubica’s upcoming novel, “Kubica brilliantly unravels the lives of two women in this tense and haunting tale of identity and deceit. WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT will keep you questioning everything-and everyone-until the riveting conclusion. A twisty, captivating, edge-of-your-seat read.”

A mother of two, Mary Kubica is a former high school teacher with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She currently resides outside of Chicago, Illinois.

What is the Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser?

The Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser is our signature fundraising event, which was attended by over 500 participants in 2017. Celebrating its 15th year, the event has featured renowned authors, including Salman Rushdie, Jodi Picoult, and Isabelle Allende, and gives attendees the opportunity to learn more about their life outside of writing and their novels, while supporting literacy education for children and families across Southern California. Each year, we raise over $200,000 that directly supports our mission to open opportunities for life success by inspiring a commitment to reading.

Integrating both style and intellect, the Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser offers something for everyone with our marketplace, silent auction, and raffle where patrons have the opportunity to win spectacular prizes while also directly supporting the three primary programs of Words Alive: Read Aloud Program, Teen Services Program, and our Family Literacy Program. The funds generated at the Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser make up a considerable portion of what Words Alive needs to continue serving over 5,000 children and families each year.

How Can I Participate in this Event?

There are multiple ways to participate in the event! Options include sponsoring the event, sponsoring a table, or donating to our silent auction. Become a table sponsor and enjoy premier seating at the event for 10 or 12 guests and admission to an exclusive post-event reception with Mary Kubica! Act now - this event is expected to sell out!

We also have assorted options of event sponsorship available that can vary from the singular Presenting Sponsor to a Community Supporter. Every sponsor gets recognition and listed in the event program, with additional opportunities available.

For more package details and contact information, visit our Author’s Luncheon page on our website here.

Sources:

http://marykubica.com/

Celebrating Our Graduating Scholars: Lexi Martinez

"My experience with Words Alive has always been extremely positive. My love for reading has been restored since I have been involved with them and I've always found a support system within the organization." -- Lexi Martinez, Words Alive Westreich Scholar

 A picture of Lexi holding up her award at the 2017 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship ceremony.

A picture of Lexi holding up her award at the 2017 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship ceremony.

The Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program awards scholarships to participants in the Words Alive Adolescent Book Group to support them in their pursuit of higher education at the college or vocational level. Unlike other scholarship programs, which typically fund only tuition, books and educational supplies, each recipient is eligible to receive funds to cover the cost of rent, food, childcare, clothing, travel and other living expenses. Additionally, the program matches each recipient with a mentor. Student and mentor meet regularly throughout the school year, and the mentors provide guidance, direction, and often, a shoulder to lean on.

In the past month, we have seen three of our scholarship students, Domminiece Willis, Zaphire Alonso Duarte, and Lexi Martinez, graduate from community college with associate's degrees. All three students graduated on May 25, 2018, Domminiece from Southwestern College and Zaphire and Lexi from City College.

Words Alive is thrilled to have been a part of the journey towards success for all of these wonderful students. We are so proud of all of them; they embody what it means to persevere and thrive.

We interviewed Lexi Martinez to learn more about her college experience and her experience with the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program.

Read on:

 A picture of Lexi working with her mentor, Sarah Beauchemin, at an event at Feeding San Diego!

A picture of Lexi working with her mentor, Sarah Beauchemin, at an event at Feeding San Diego!

Name: Zaira "Lexi" Martinez

Age: 22

College: San Diego City College (will be attending San Diego State University in Fall 2018)

Degree (with area of study): Social Work (clinical)

Mentor: Sarah Beauchemin

1. When were you first introduced to Words Alive? How has your experience with Words Alive affected you?

I was first introduced to WA while I was a student at Monarch School in 2012-2013. My experience with WA has always been extremely positive. My love for reading has been restored since I have been involved with them and I've always found a support system within the organization. 

2. What was the biggest challenge you faced in earning your degree? 

My biggest obstacle was not having a stable living situation for me of my family. 

3. How did you overcome that challenge? 

I helped my mom as much as I could and thankfully my mom was able to get an affordable housing grant.

4. What is your favorite book that you read during your college years? Why? 

My favorite book that I've recently read is Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.

5. What are your future plans now that you have earned your associate degree?

I will be attending SDSU in the Fall to get my Bachelors in Social Work.

6. What advice do you have for the next generation?

Always work on yourself and make you and your future your number one priority! Never stop trying to improve yourself. 

The Benefits of Discussing Books in Small Groups

By Jennifer Van Pelt

 A picture of Read Aloud volunteer, Barb Takahashi, talking with Golden Hill students in her small group session.

A picture of Read Aloud volunteer, Barb Takahashi, talking with Golden Hill students in her small group session.

Words Alive runs multiple literacy programs that focus on teaching strong literacy skills and a commitment to reading to children, teens, and families. One of our most popular programs is the Read Aloud Program, which currently serves over 4,300 Southern California students that are between Preschool and 3rd grade.

We offer this program in a “small group format” to a few of our school sites, in which our trained volunteers visit the classroom for 90 minutes each week to read to the group as a whole, then split the class into groups of 3-5 students to discuss the book and do small group activities. A study from aecf.org showed that students who are unable to read proficiently by the time they leave 3rd grade are four times more likely to not receive a high school diploma. Because of their young age and the relationship between literacy and success in education, we want to provide the most benefit we can in the 90 minutes a week that our volunteers visit the classrooms by fully engaging the students. We vet and train our volunteers to ensure they understand the discussion material and have the appropriate props, stories, and photos to help bring the books to life for the students.

These volunteers are able to bring more materials to the classroom so the group discussions are able to make the connection between the book and their everyday lives. Another benefit of the program, as noticed by our volunteers, is that all children are given the opportunity to participate. In a group of 30 or more students, children don’t always have the support to get individualized attention and encouragement to speak up like they do in smaller groups. They are also given the opportunity to use the new vocabulary and read aloud, so they can have another method of internalizing the new information.

In order to measure the effectiveness of the program, Words Alive partnered with the University of San Diego’s Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research and surveyed the teachers and volunteers involved in this small group format of the Read Aloud Program. When asking them about the effectiveness of the small groups, 9 out of 10 teachers agreed that it encouraged more individual participation, helped students understand the story, and resulted in deeper discussions. Teachers also positively rated their student's reading motivation as a 4.1 on a 5 point scale after they participated in our Read Aloud Program formatted with small groups. Reading motivation is a key literacy indicator because it shows the self-confidence and desire to continue reading, which leads to more learning and practice.

In these underserved schools particularly, there is often times no guarantee that students are provided with the necessary resources and support staff to receive the individualized attention that our Read Aloud Program provides. That is why teachers and volunteers believe in the work that we do and recommend the program to other schools.

If you would like to become a volunteer in our Read Aloud Program, or any other positions at Words Alive, visit our website here to learn more.

Your Brain on Reading

By Jennifer Van Pelt

 An image of three of our Adolescent Book Group students holding up copies of the YA novel "The Hate U Give" to cover their faces.

An image of three of our Adolescent Book Group students holding up copies of the YA novel "The Hate U Give" to cover their faces.

Reading is imperative to learning and development, but do you know what is actually happening to your brain when you read? A recent article by NPR outlines a study specifically conducted on children around age 4 in which they test activity in the brain caused by reading by presenting various story formats to the participants while they were inside an fMRI machine.

The story formats presented to the children were: audio only, illustrated pages of a storybook with an accompanying voice over, and an animated cartoon. For the audio only format, it appeared as though the children were struggling to understand and connect the dots. For the animated cartoon, it was quite the opposite: all the work was done for the children, so they were left trying to comprehend the information given to them, exercising their brain minimally. Lastly, for the illustrated pages with audio voice over, this seemed to be the most beneficial to the children. They were able to hear the words and fill in the blanks with the illustrations for the most comprehensive understanding while exercising their brain networks. This also allows those with different learning styles to benefit from both visual and aural methods. The article did make an important note though -- although the illustrated book with audio voice over was the most beneficial in the study, it still pales in comparison to sitting down with family and reading a book together.

As children get older and they start reading for themselves, they tend to sound-out words based on the individual letters. When they do this, they are forging more brain connections to help them remember the word in the future. As written in an article on theconversation.com, there is a particular area in the brain where words are “stored”, recognized more so as a symbol, so once a word is learned it is more easily recognizable and is added to their arsenal of words to use in the future.

What about for adults that are learning to read in the later stages of life? There have been studies that show the actual process of learning to read and write rewires one’s brain. A study was conducted that focused on adults around age 30 who were taught to read and write over the course of six months and included a control group who were not taught anything new. For the adults who spent six months learning to read and write, there were increases in brain activity in the cortex, the “learning” portion of the brain, as well as the thalamus and brainstem -- areas of the brain that are not generally related to learning or literacy but instead are generally used for more basic processes such as senses, movement, and attention.

These studies indicate that your brain on reading is a very involved process, one that shows the benefits of reading down to the very core of our being: it heightens activity in key areas of the brain and helps you comprehend stories and concepts more fully.

At Words Alive, we understand the benefits reading can have on all aspects of your life and at every age -- if you would like to get involved and help others experience the benefits, visit our main page here!

Sources:

https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/05/24/611609366/whats-going-on-in-your-childs-brain-when-you-read-them-a-story

http://theconversation.com/explainer-how-the-brain-changes-when-we-learn-to-read-76783

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2132589-learning-to-read-and-write-rewires-adult-brain-in-six-months/

Sonya Williams - Volunteer of the Month - May 2018

 
Sonya Williams.jpg
 

 

Please join us in congratulating Sonya Williams - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for May 2018!

Sonya has been with our volunteer family since December.  She has already made such an impact on her Adolescent Book Group students and teachers at South Bay Blended Tech in National City. Sonya’s charisma is unparalleled, which makes her a dynamic facilitator. She has a knack for commanding attention from her group of raucous teens while keeping the session fun and engaging. She makes it a point to provide one on one attention, connecting with individual students throughout each creative writing session.

Sonya has also contributed to the program by writing curriculum guides.  And, she has started to help facilitate volunteer orientations – sharing her classroom experiences and tips with new volunteers. 

Her support is well-rounded and given with such positivity and energy.  Sonya, we are so lucky to work with you!  Thanks for giving us your time.

Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with Sonya below:

Tell us a little about yourself.
I have always loved reading. As a young child, I was always sneaking off to read a book (and I still do). My love of reading took me to England for my master’s degree in English Literature, inspired me to start several book clubs, teach college, ESL and literacy classes, run an educational center, write curriculum, and develop training programs and e-learning courses. These days, I also spend a lot of time reading Mo Willems books with my kids.

What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer role(s)?
I initially got involved with Words Alive to develop curriculum, but was convinced to teach an ABG writing class, and I’m glad I did. It’s so rewarding to develop real connections with individual students, and to see a powerful, personal piece of writing come from a student who doesn’t speak in class. And it’s inspiring to work with the classroom teachers who invest their lives in these students.

What have you been reading lately?
I’m currently reading Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.

Celebrating Our Graduating Scholars: Domminiece Willis!

"Words Alive has been such a huge stepping stone into both my transition into college and adulthood. I have picked up on so many educational, social and life skills throughout my time with Words Alive." -- Domminiece Willis, Words Alive Westreich Scholar

 An image of Domminiece at her graduation. She's holding her Southwestern College degree up to the camera and smiling, and she's wearing a Words Alive Westreich Scholar stole!

An image of Domminiece at her graduation. She's holding her Southwestern College degree up to the camera and smiling, and she's wearing a Words Alive Westreich Scholar stole!

The Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program awards scholarships to participants in the Words Alive Adolescent Book Group to support them in their pursuit of higher education at the college or vocational level. Unlike other scholarship programs, which typically fund only tuition, books and educational supplies, each recipient is eligible to receive funds to cover the cost of rent, food, childcare, clothing, travel and other living expenses. Additionally, the program matches each recipient with a mentor. Student and mentor meet regularly throughout the school year, and the mentors provide guidance, direction, and often, a shoulder to lean on.

In the past month, we have seen three of our scholarship students, Domminiece Willis, Zaphire Alonso Duarte, and Lexi Martinez, graduate from community college with associate's degrees. All three students graduated on May 25, 2018, Domminiece from Southwestern College and Zaphire and Lexi from City College.

Words Alive is thrilled to have been a part of the journey towards success for all of these wonderful students. We are so proud of all of them; they embody what it means to persevere and thrive.

We interviewed Domminiece Willis to learn more about her college experience and her experience with the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program.

Read on:

 An image of Jessica Fryman, Teen Services Program Manager, and Domminice Willis at the graduation!

An image of Jessica Fryman, Teen Services Program Manager, and Domminice Willis at the graduation!

Name: Domminiece Willis

Age: 26

College: Southwestern College

Degree (with area of study): Associates in Art: Child Development

Mentor: Karen Ladner


1. When were you first introduced to Words Alive? How has your experience with Words Alive affected you?

I was first introduced to Words Alive through the monthly book groups held at Monarch School in 2010. Words Alive has been such a huge stepping stone into both my transition into college and adulthood. I have picked up on so many educational, social and life skills throughout my time with Words Alive.

2. What was the biggest challenge you faced in earning your degree?
The biggest challenge that I faced in earning my degree was struggling with self-doubt, overwhelming course loads and comparing my progress with others. I found myself constantly belittling myself or disregarding any minor achievements or progress that I had made because in my point of view I was ”behind” everyone else and that began to take a toll heavily on my grades and my motivation to finish college.

3. How did you overcome that challenge?
With the help of my family, mentor, and another Words Alive staff member, I dropped my course load in half. I took a break from the scholarship and I focused more on celebrating my achievements, big or small, and understanding that my educational journey is not like everyone else’s and that I will move at my own pace and in my own way, but I will make it to the finish line. Regardless.

4. What is your favorite book that you read during your college years? Why?
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I remember reading this book and having to pause saying, “This is ME, this book is about me.” There were so many similarities between me and the characters of this book. The struggles of stability, financial issues, schooling and self-discovery throughout this book spoke to me and gave me such a positive outlook on life because it was so refreshing to see how everything worked out for her in the end.

5. What are your future plans now that you have earned your associate degree?
Now that I have my associate degree in Child Development it's off to San Diego State University in the fall to earn my bachelor’s in child development, so I can become a Child Life Specialist. Can't stop now! The future children depend on me!

6. What advice do you have for the next generation?

Keep going, stay positive and always surround yourself with a strong support system! It's going to be hard and you'll come across many obstacles in your life. You'll get a few bruises here and there and it's okay to sit and cry over them as long as you get up to grab a band-aid and push through.

Learn more about our Teen Services program here: http://www.wordsalive.org/teenservices/