Program Highlights

Words Alive Curriculum Sneak Peek!

By Jennifer Van Pelt

Words Alive’s Adolescent Book Group and Read Aloud Program have started back up for the school year! We are excited for our volunteers to get back into the classroom and engage with students while reading and talking about books together. In our curriculum for both programs, we focus on new, diverse, and relevant texts so that students can see themselves represented in popular stories.

In 1965, The Saturday Review published “The All-White World of Children’s Books” showing that only 6.7% of children’s books published in the past three years had included black characters. By 2013, the numbers had only risen slightly to 10%. More than a third of people in the United States are non-white and they deserve to see themselves represented in literature as much as anyone else. Providing students with diverse representation in books is so important in our programs and allows students to make connections between the books they read and their own lives.

Here is a sneak peek of a few of the books we’ll be reading in each program this year!

Upcoming Curriculum for our Read Aloud Program

Although children’s books are generally shorter, we want to ensure that students get the most value out of each book we bring into the classroom. Rather than reading through each book and moving quickly on to the next, our volunteers bring the book to life by asking questions before, during, and after reading aloud to encourage the students to participate. The goal is to bring enjoyment to the classroom through reading while helping children develop cognitive, language, and social-emotional skills.

For the month of October, we have a Halloween themed book titled Trick-or-Treat: A Happy Hunter’s Halloween. The book includes 15 different poems describing youngster’s Halloween celebrations, accompanied by bright illustrations. While reading, our volunteers help students focus on rhyming, rhythm, and emotion. Students are also given the chance to learn about and create their own silly alliterations and share their own Halloween costumes with their peers.

 An image of Giraffes Can’t Dance surrounded by children’s toys! Photo credit:  phenom_llama

An image of Giraffes Can’t Dance surrounded by children’s toys! Photo credit: phenom_llama

Another book our volunteers are looking forward to reading is Giraffes Can’t Dance. This book follows Gerald the Giraffe’s journey from a self-conscious to graceful dancer, including all of the animals and friends he meets along the way. As with most books at this level, our volunteers talk a lot about the book before reading it -- what do the students think the story will be about? Where do they think the book is set? After reading the book, some topics of discussion will be idioms included in the story as well as what lessons were learned.

Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors? describes Elizabeth Blackwell’s decision in the 1830s to become a doctor instead of a mother or housewife. A big focus of this book is relating it to the students own lives: what do the students want to be when they grow up? Does it remind them of any other people they know who have worked to achieve equal rights? Relating a book to our reality helps bring the book to life and can make it a more memorable activity for students.

Upcoming Curriculum for our Adolescent Book Group Program

Our ABG program serves teenagers in alternative schools who have faced extraordinary circumstances such as violence, pregnancy, and homelessness. Our trained Words Alive volunteers facilitate book discussions, writing workshops, and projects to help bring the books alive.

 An image of  Turtles All the Way Down  surrounded by flowers! Photo credit:  courtneyandherbooks

An image of Turtles All the Way Down surrounded by flowers! Photo credit: courtneyandherbooks

Among the new and diverse texts we’re bring into the classroom this year is Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. Positive and accurate mental health representation is still so rare in our media and this book can be highly impactful for students with any type of mental health problems. This book explores topics of friendship, mental health, and mystery as 16-year-old Aza investigates the disappearance of a billionaire The discussions around this book include some of the unique writing techniques John Green employs, as well as how mental health plays a part in the story and in real life.

 An image of  Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe ! Photo credit:  sarachico

An image of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe! Photo credit: sarachico

We’re also excited to introduce students to the wonderful YA coming-of-age novel, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. This book follows two high school aged boys, Aristotle and Dante, as they struggle and come to terms with their racial and sexual identities and feelings of loneliness and anger. This book tackles a wide range of topics for students and volunteers to discuss together, and while reading students will be able to enjoy Saenz’s poetic and beautiful writing style.

Finally, a brand-new book we’ll be diving into this year is Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro. This book details Moss Jefferies’ life after his father was murdered by an Oakland police officer and how he continues to be treated like a criminal in his own school. This book touches on themes of racism, oppression, police brutality, and activism. Discussions around this book focus on problem solving, activism, and how different upbringings can affect perspective.

This sneak peek represents just a few of the books we’ll be reading and discussing with students this year. These engaging, diverse texts and topics are sure to get all of our students excited about reading and learning!

WAWS Spotlight: Rose Gonzalez

 An image of Rose Gonzalez holding her award in front of a Words Alive backdrop.

An image of Rose Gonzalez holding her award in front of a Words Alive backdrop.

Rose Gonzalez is a fourth-time recipient of the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship. She graduated from Monarch School and now attends San Diego State University where she is majoring in Criminal Justice.

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.

 An image of Jessica Fryman, Teen Services Program Manager, standing with Rose Gonzalez at the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony.

An image of Jessica Fryman, Teen Services Program Manager, standing with Rose Gonzalez at the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony.

Let's hear more from Rose!

Name: Rose Gonzalez

Age: 21

College: San Diego State University

Area of Study: Criminal Justice

High School: Monarch School

Mentor: Bernadette Delaney

How did you first get involved with Words Alive?

I was in the Adolescent Book Group in high school while I was at Monarch School.

How has your experience with Words Alive affected you?

My experience with Words Alive has affected me greatly. They have been an amazing support with school and my personal life.

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

Getting an A in my stats class and receiving two scholarships.

Tell us about your favorite college memory.

Making new friends and becoming a part of Guardian Scholars.

What are you reading lately?

Memoirs.

WAWS Spotlight: Paulina Aguilar-Lino

 An image of Paulina Aguilar-Lino holding her award in front of a Words Alive backdrop.

An image of Paulina Aguilar-Lino holding her award in front of a Words Alive backdrop.

The 2018-2019 program year is about to kick off and throughout the year we're going to be highlighting some of the truly incredible young people we have the pleasure to work with through our programs! To start, get excited to meet our Words Alive Westreich Scholarship recipients!

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.

 An image of Paulina hugging, Annette Ruiz, who presented her award at the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship ceremony.

An image of Paulina hugging, Annette Ruiz, who presented her award at the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship ceremony.

Let's hear more from one of our new scholars, Paulina!

Name: Paulina Aguilar-Lino

Age: 22

College: Southwestern College

Area of Study: Recording Arts & Technology

High School: Lindsay Community College

Mentor: Allison Keltner

Paulina Aguilar-Lino is a first-time WAWS recipient. She graduated from Lindsay Community School and is currently enrolled at Southwestern College. She will soon receive her Associates Degree in Recording Arts & Technology and dreams of creating her own audio entertainment company. She is also working to mentor other young mothers and encouraging them to continue their education.

How did you first get involved with Words Alive?

I was attending Lindsay Community School and Words Alive inspired us to read and this year, Itzel Vega (a former WAWS recipient), told me about the scholarship and advised me to apply.

How has your experience with Words Alive affected you?

My experience with Words Alive has inspired me to become the best version of myself by reminding me that I am not alone in my journey to accomplish my dreams. Words Alive gives me hope and pride in my efforts.

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

This year I have accomplished two things that I worked hard to achieve. I am receiving this scholarship from WAWS and am to receive a scholarship from Street of Dreams and help mentor other young teenage mothers to continue their education.

Tell us about your favorite college memory.

My favorite college memory is when I took my first music business class and I realized this is exactly what I belong doing. I realized it is a difficult journey and not many understand my goals but I believe in myself and my teachers and counselors support me and I feel very encouraged.

What are you reading lately?

I am reading a book about the constructs of reality.

Celebrating Our Scholars: The 2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Award Ceremony!

By Izzy Ster

 An image of the 2018-2019 Words Alive Westreich Scholars!

An image of the 2018-2019 Words Alive Westreich Scholars!

On August 22nd, Words Alive held the annual Words Alive Westreich Scholarship (WAWS) Award Ceremony at the San Diego Central Library to celebrate the 2018-2019 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship recipients.

Unlike other scholarship programs, which typically fund only tuition, books, and educational supplies, each scholar in the WAWS program is eligible to use their scholarship funds to cover the cost of rent, food, childcare, clothing, transportation, and other living expenses. Words Alive awarded $37,500 in scholarships for the 2018-19 academic year. Nine of the scholars are returning to the program after participating in at least one other year and are receiving a $3,500 scholarship, while three first-time scholars are receiving a $2,000 scholarship from the organization’s Julia & Zoey Shenkman Award. Additionally, each scholarship recipient is matched with a mentor. The mentors meet with their student throughout the school year to help provide guidance and, often times, a shoulder to lean on.

This year, Words Alive is happy to present these 12 remarkable students with the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship: Paulina Aguilar-Lino (Southwestern College), Zaphire Alonso Duarte (San Diego State University), Destiny Frost (Cal State Bakersfield), Rose Gonzalez (San Diego State University), Diana Gonzalez-Soto (San Diego City College), Ulises Izucar (Point Loma Nazarene University), Aaron Juarez (Southwestern College), Zaira “Lexi” Martinez (San Diego State University), Alicia Osuna (San Diego City College), Daimeon Rodriguez (San Diego City College), Antonise Stewart (San Diego City College), and Domminiece Willis (San Diego State University).

One of the scholars, Daimeon Rodriguez, is a student at San Diego City College with plans to major in computer engineering and is proud to have made the Dean’s List this past year. Daimeon is from a rural part of Texas, an oil town, where many people don’t “make it out.” He said he is very grateful to receive the scholarship again and to continue his path towards a successful future. At the scholarship ceremony, he explained how his experience with Words Alive has changed his life for the better.

“[They’ve been] amazing. They’ve been great in giving [me] opportunities to apply for the [Westreich] scholarship and volunteer work.”

Rose Gonzalez, another returning scholar, was the highest scoring applicant for the past two years and is attending San Diego State University. During the ceremony, she presented her very moving application essay describing the hardships she has endured such as bearing witness to family members’ drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, and identifying as an unaccompanied youth. During her youth, Rose missed two years of school and would often stay with neighbors because her family would “simply forget about her.” It was in Tijuana where Rose said she realized what her mother was doing was “illegal and morally wrong.”

“I always knew I had the potential to create a purposeful future for myself, even if I was on my own,” she said. “To survive in life...I matured at a very young age. I had to understand that the only way to be successful was to not become like my mother and break our bond. I needed to keep going to school and receive an education to become an independent woman and an educated woman.”

All recipients had a mentor, family member, or close friend to present the scholarship to them, all of whom spoke very highly of the scholar, with continuous praise to the amount of drive, determination, and grit of each student. Many of the students have overcome unbelievable obstacles including homelessness, teen pregnancy, abusive relationships, familial drug and alcohol abuse, and juvenile delinquency. These are students who have taken the initiative to help create better lives for themselves, even if at times they believed that was not possible.

Congratulations to 2018-2019 recipients of the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship and thank you to those who joined us at this event. If you would like to learn more about the scholarship, visit our website at this link: www.wordsalive.org/teenservices/  

Join Us in Recognizing the 2018-2019 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Recipients

 Image: The 2017-2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholars pose with their awards at the San Diego Central Library.

Image: The 2017-2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholars pose with their awards at the San Diego Central Library.

Transitioning from high school to college can be challenging. In fact, as many as one-in-three first-year college students don’t return for sophomore year, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Here at Words Alive, we set college-bound students up for success through the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship and Mentorship program.

Domminiece Willis was a homeless, first-generation college student who struggled with depression and other personal and educational challenges when she first started college. Instead of giving up, she persevered and completed her associate’s degree at Southwestern College.

With hard work, determination and the support of the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship program, Domminiece is transferring to San Diego State University in the fall. She wants to work as a child life specialist, and eventually, a pediatrician.

“I am extremely proud of Domminiece for her resiliency and persistence through community college,” wrote Megan Turner, college and career coordinator at Monarch School, Domminiece’s alma mater. “She is a true example of hard work and determination for our younger students.”

Words Alive will present Domminiece, along with 11 other remarkable students from Juvenile Court and Community Schools, with the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship during the annual Awards Ceremony & Dinner on Wednesday, Aug. 22 at the San Diego Central Library.

Words Alive has awarded $37,500 in scholarships for the 2018-19 academic year. Nine returning scholars of the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship program will receive a $3,500 scholarship, while three first-time scholars will receive a $2,000 scholarship from the organization’s Julia & Zoey Shenkman Scholarship fund.

The 2018-2019 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship program recipients are: Paulina Aguilar-Lino (Southwestern College), Zaphire Alonso Duarte (San Diego State University), Destiny Frost (Cal State Bakersfield), Rose Gonzalez (San Diego State University), Diana Gonzalez-Soto (San Diego City College), Ulises Izucar (Point Loma Nazarene University), Aaron Juarez (Southwestern College), Zaira “Lexi” Martinez (San Diego State University), Alicia Osuna (San Diego City College), Daimeon Rodriguez (San Diego City College), Antonise Stewart (San Diego City College) and Domminiece Willis (San Diego State University).

Unlike other scholarship programs, which typically fund only tuition, books and educational supplies, each recipient is eligible to use their scholarship funds to cover the cost of rent, food, childcare, clothing, travel and other living expenses. Additionally, the program matches each scholarship recipient with a mentor, who meets with their student throughout the school year, providing guidance, direction, and often times, a “shoulder” to lean on. 

San Diego philanthropist Ruth Westreich created the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program in 2007, with the first scholarships awarded the following year. The program awards scholarships to Words Alive Adolescent Book Group program participants to support them in their pursuit of higher education at the college or vocational level.

According to a 2018 survey, 100 percent of Words Alive Westreich Scholarship recipients said they now know how to access academic, professional and community resources on their own. Seventy-eight percent of scholars said they now feel more hopeful about their education and future.

“I realize that I’m resilient,” Domminiece wrote. “I might take a break, but I get back up. I won’t let myself fail.”

To recognize the 2018-19 scholarship recipients, Words Alive will host its annual Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Awards Ceremony from 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22 at San Diego Central Library, 330 Park Blvd. in downtown San Diego. RSVP here to attend. 

The Love You Give: A Reflection On Our 4th Annual Art & Literacy Event

By Jennifer Van Pelt & Sara Mortensen

 An image of our students from La Mesa Community School posed in front of their sculpture. One of the students is holding up a copy of the book, The Hate U Give.

An image of our students from La Mesa Community School posed in front of their sculpture. One of the students is holding up a copy of the book, The Hate U Give.

On June 8th, Words Alive held our 4th Annual Art & Literacy Event to showcase artwork made by our Adolescent Book Group (ABG) participants. Each year, ABG students participate in a program-wide literacy and arts project that enhances their reading experience and encourages them to think critically about themes in a book and their own environment.

This year, our book of focus was the stunning young adult novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The book and the exhibition focused on the theme of “duality”. At the Art & Literacy Event, our Executive Director, Patrick Stewart, explained where the inspiration for the theme came from:

For many the term “risk” is a very positive or powerful way to go forth or evaluate next steps. Yet at the same time, we use the term “at-risk” with a child and I don’t need to define that even further because you know exactly what that is. At-risk kid. At-risk communities. They have very negative connotations. These are labels that very often these kids grow up with, I don’t know if they are trying to shed them, they will tell you sometimes it's who they are. But we look at risk very differently [depending on our perspective]. That was the inspiration for this...Through this duality we wanted to take a look at dual concepts but with language and having conversations about [this] one particular word.

In the novel, The Hate U Give, the main character encounters and witnesses police brutality in her community and overcomes barriers through activism. For the exhibition, students focused on themes of duality in their own lives and how they have struggled and persevered individually. The project enabled the participants to make real-world connections between the book and their lives in a meaningful way in order to learn about themselves but also reflect on how coming together and sharing their experiences can make a larger impact.

 Each student painted an individual wood piece based on either the positive or negativw aspects associated with a particular theme. For example, students may have created work about the negatives of activism, or the positives of anger. 

Each student painted an individual wood piece based on either the positive or negativw aspects associated with a particular theme. For example, students may have created work about the negatives of activism, or the positives of anger. 

Students painted individual pieces of wood based on a theme from the book (identity, racism, grief, anger, bravery, risk, or activism), then the pieces of artwork submitted by the students were combined together into communal sculptures by local artist Isaias Crow. In the end, each school participating in the project had a distinct sculpture that served as a visual representation of the positive and negative aspects (i.e. the “duality”) of one of the prominent themes in The Hate U Give.

The exhibition, titled The Love You Give, was displayed at the San Diego Art Institute (SDAI), a regional contemporary art center in Balboa Park, at the Youth Alliance Exhibitions: a showcase of student artwork created during the past school year with seven other local non-profit organizations. In addition, two of our schools (La Mesa Community School and 37ECB) took field trips to view the exhibition. During these field trips, the Education Director from the San Diego Art Institute, Karla Centeno, held a discussion with the students about how they felt about their work being displayed and publically available for others to see. Responses ranged from “I feel famous” to “I feel proud” and Karla encouraged the students to bring their family and friends to view their accomplishments as well.

At the Art & Literacy Event on June 8th, nearly 100 of our volunteers, donors, and community members showed up to support our students and our mission. The room was filled with awe and amazement as everyone took in the incredible artwork our students had produced. In addition to the art, students participated in writing exercises based on their theme, some of which were printed in the event program. On the subject of grief, one student wrote:

Like  a Trojan  Horse

love  is the  costume of  pain

that  drowns  in black  water.

-Christian,  17 years old   

Monarch  student

On the subject of bravery, another student wrote:

Bravery  is not about  jumping in front  of a bullet or standing  up for someone.

To  me, bravery  is avoiding confrontation  and walking away.

Bravery  is not about  getting locked up  or committing a crime.

Bravery  is staying  away from crime  and moving on.

Bravery  is not always  about fighting or  jumping someone you  hate.

Bravery  is breaking  up a fight or  doing what’s right.

-Salvador,  17 years old

37ECB  student

 An image of the Words Alive program for The Love You Give next to the book cover for The Hate U Give.

An image of the Words Alive program for The Love You Give next to the book cover for The Hate U Give.

Words Alive Executive Director Patrick Stewart spoke at the event and called upon the experiences the participants have had throughout the program and during the art project specifically. He recited their words such as “this is the first book I’ve read” when speaking about a novel they studied, then later, “I can’t believe I actually wrote this” as they picked up the program that held their own poems.

Providing the environment and tools that allow students to read, analyze, create, and learn to love reading is what Words Alive strives to accomplish with our Adolescent Book Group. One of the many ways we teach and inspire the students to do this is through the integration of literature and art, which studies have shown can expand critical thinking and language development. We are so proud of our students for creating such beautiful art pieces and engaging with the project. We can’t wait until next year’s project!

If you would like to learn about and get more involved with our literacy programs at Words Alive, click here to find out more information.

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!

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.

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.