Learn How Champions for Youth is Making a BIG Impact on Words Alive

Farmers Insurance is partnering with Words Alive to host some special events that will help us inspire more students and families to become lifelong learners. Each year, Farmers Insurance hosts a Women’s Day and Farmers in the Community Session during the week of San Diego’s PGA TOUR event, the Farmers Insurance Open. During these special events, Farmers Insurance employees will be spending a portion of their time stuffing 1,000 Kindergarten Readiness Toolkits for our Family Literacy Program.

After completing seven weeks of fun and engaging programming, our Family Literacy participants are eager to continue learning and using language as a playtime activity. At the end of the program, graduating families receive a backpack with school supplies, alphabet magnets, glue, crayons, scissors, and more. We encourage families to continue spending valuable time together to ignite quality conversation, which is the foundation for learning at this young age.

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Words Alive will also be hosting a Read Aloud Program field trip for 60 students from Doris Miller Elementary School sponsored by Farmers Insurance in partnership with the PGA Wives. The PGA Wives will be using our Words Alive curriculum to host a small group read aloud session with students ranging from K-5th grade. At this time, they will also host a small book giveaway where students will receive a copy of the book they are reading and get to choose three of their own to take home.

We are excited to have the opportunity to partner with Farmers Insurance and The Century Club San Diego to serve more students and families. Words Alive is fundraising until the last day of the Farmers Insurance Open, January 27. We are vying to earn up to $30,000 in bonus funds. Donate today to help us reach our goals.  

Teen Author Talk with Mark Oshiro!

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Mark Oshiro stands onstage at the Neil Morgan Auditorium at the San Diego Central Library. There’s a drop down screen that projects a presentation introducing him to students in the Words Alive Adolescent Book Group program. “I am a queer, Latinx author (of Mexican, Guatemalan, and Salvadoreño descent) and I write books for kids!” As Mark continues to talk to our students about what he was like as a teenager, his career path, and life as an author, he exudes enthusiasm, passion, and sincerity. Although this is undoubtedly a special opportunity for our students, it seems at the same time this is just as special for Mark.

Words Alive's Adolescent Book Group brings books alive for teenagers facing extraordinary circumstances such as homelessness, violence, teen pregnancy and impact by the justice system. Through engaging projects, writing workshops and discussion sessions, Adolescent Book Group participants enhance their critical thinking skills, self-esteem and ability to express themselves. Words Alive's commitment to reading diverse and relevant texts provides an avenue for program participants to connect books to themselves and the world while changing the story of their own lives.

This semester, two of our classrooms, one at Monarch School and one Lindsay Community School, read Mark Oshiro's debut novel, Anger is a Gift. This story follows Moss Jeffries, a sophomore in high school, as he and his classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their school administration. What this means for them is strict policies and procedures (such as installing metal detectors and random locker searches) and harsh punishment (including intimidation and force from the local police department). As readers, we follow as Moss and his classmates organize and push back against the administration. (Source)

Currently, the Adolescent Book Group solely serves Juvenile Court and Community Schools from the border to North County and this year one of the themes the district wanted to focus on was youth activism. Anger is a Gift perfectly tackles themes such as identifying the change you want in your community, organizing, intersectionality, non-violent demonstration, and power structures.

As students started reading the novel in class and discussing the book with Words Alive volunteers, it was obvious how relevant the story and these themes were to the students. A select few students at Lindsay Community School started reading the novel first and soon it was the talk of the school and the rest of the class shortly joined in. At one point in the novel, the students stage a walkout and our students at Monarch School had a rare opportunity to have an honest discussion with their principal about what he would do if they walked out.

Both of these examples serve to demonstrate the magic that happens when students can both relate to a book and experience an enthusiasm for reading. This is what we mean when we say Words Alive brings books alive for our students.

On occasion, we can take this a step further. Students were able to hear first-hand and in-person from one of the authors of a book they read when we hosted a Teen Author Talk at the San Diego Central Library with Mark Oshiro. In the Adolescent Book Group, discussion often turns to the author’s intent (Why did they say this? What did they mean by this? What do you think their personal experience is?) and it was a special experience for our students to hear directly from the source.

Mark Oshiro and students lean over a copy of his book as he signs the book and answers questions.

Mark Oshiro and students lean over a copy of his book as he signs the book and answers questions.

Mark started off the event by giving a presentation catered for school visits. It quickly became clear that Mark’s journey is similar to that of many of our students, as he talked about his own experiences with homelessness, police brutality, and “feeling like a statistic.” He was open and honest when saying that spite is often what motivated him. He wanted to prove to various adults in his life that he could become successful, despite their lack of belief in him.

Then, Mark sat down for a moderated conversation with our Office & Communication Coordinator, Sara Mortensen. In this conversation we learned that Mark’s real life experiences with police brutality inspired the story that became Anger is a Gift. When asked what other emotions besides anger he felt were important in activist movements, Mark took a moment to think and finally decided on: patience. In a surprise turn at the end of the moderated conversation, Mark talked about how a particular episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer greatly impacted him and parts of the story that became Anger is a Gift.

In the Q&A portion, students asked questions such as: Do you think this book could have a sequel? Which character do you relate to the most? What would you be doing if you weren’t writing books? After the event, students continued to ask questions as they got their books signed. Words Alive students entered the event excited to meet the author of a book they loved, and left feeling inspired and empowered.

At Words Alive, our mission is to open opportunities for life success by inspiring a commitment to reading. At this Teen Author Talk with Mark Oshiro, students were able to see an example of how reading can change the story of someone’s life. Mark’s journey was not necessarily conventional. He left home at 16, still graduated with a 4.4 GPA and went to college but never received his degree. And yet, through it all he was an avid reader and writer and has found immense success and accomplishment through those passions. Words Alive was proud to provide this experience to our students and we hope to put on more special events like this one in the future.

You can support our efforts to provide more opportunities like this for our students by donating to our Champions for Youth campaign!



Board Spotlight: Andrea MacDonald!

An image of Andrea with Christina Meeker, Words Alive Volunteer Program Manager, and Patrick Stewart, Words Alive Executive Director, at the 2018 Volunteer Appreciation Event.

An image of Andrea with Christina Meeker, Words Alive Volunteer Program Manager, and Patrick Stewart, Words Alive Executive Director, at the 2018 Volunteer Appreciation Event.

Andrea Mac Donald has been on our Board since 2013, and we are thrilled to introduce her as the incoming Words Alive Board Chair starting in 2019! Andrea MacDonald earned her Bachelor's Degree in Speech and Hearing from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Following school, Andrea worked as a real estate appraiser, earning many professional designations. In 1992, she moved to New Jersey where she started a residential real estate appraising practice for a leading commercial appraising firm.

After returning to California, and as her children grew up, volunteering in the community has been very important to her. Andrea served on the Board for the Solana Beach Foundation for Learning for five years, and was an officer for three years. As VP of Site Development, Andrea oversaw the fundraising for the six Solana Beach School District schools. Other organizations that Andrea has been involved with over the years are PTA, Girl Scouts, Miracle League, and National Charity League.

Andrea has not only been on the Words Alive Board since 2013, she has also chaired our Event Committee for many years, providing immense support and organization for our largest fundraising event of the year! We are so excited for what’s to come with Andrea as our Board Chair.

Now, let’s hear more directly from Andrea!

When was the first moment you fell in love with reading?

I have always had books in my life. When I was little, my mother shared her love of reading with my sisters and I.  She would take us to the library every week, and share with us how when she was little she decided to read every book in the library, and we would all go to each aisle with her and pick our books - trying to read our way around the library.

How do you use literacy in your day-to-day life?

I have discovered in the last few years, that I love being in the classroom with young children and have recently started working as a Substitute Teacher. I love reading to them, discussing a book with them, and watching them get excited about the characters and the subject matter…..watching the light bulbs going on!

What inspired you to join the Words Alive board?

When my children were in elementary school, I was on the Solana Beach Foundation for Learning. I oversaw all the fundraising for Solana Beach Schools. Words Alive was an incredible fit for me.  Reading has always been important to me, and to be on a Board with a similar mission statement fit. To be able to bring reading and writing to these kids, who may not be exposed to it everyday is so unbelievable and exciting.

What is your favorite book and why?

I am a voracious reader and belong to two book clubs. I cannot tell you one book I love because I tend to enjoy them all.  Many times I will read a book and not really enjoy it, then when I go to book club, hear the discussion, and then I’m ready to re-read it with a different perspective.  I have loved many books, but because there are so many books out there that I want to read, I have never re-read a book.

What has been your favorite aspect of being a Words Alive board member?

When I first joined the Board, Words Alive was concentrating on our three programs and doing a good job. But in the last 6 years, Words Alive has grown tremendously. Not only has our staff grown, but our reach has grown. It is really exciting to see how our programs have expanded. I’m looking forward to watching our growth in the future!

Thank you, Andrea, for all you’ve done for Words Alive! Learn more about our Board of Directors here!

What Words Alive Accomplished in 2018!

By Jennifer Van Pelt

In 2018, Words Alive accomplished many goals and held several events that are cause for celebration! With the help of our 261 active volunteers and 39 collaborative partners, we ultimately donated 14,642 books and served 3,725 students and parents in 2018! Join us in taking a look at 2018 in review...

Image of several people toasting with glasses of Boochcraft kombucha. Source:  Boochcraft

Image of several people toasting with glasses of Boochcraft kombucha. Source: Boochcraft

In April 2018, Words Alive partnered up with Boochcraft to celebrate their new special release flavor. As a San Diego based kombucha brewery, they give back to their community by facilitating projects that support education, food, and energy. All of the gross proceeds from the event were donated to Words Alive, resulting in our ability to serve over 75 families in our Family Literacy Program! Partnerships such as this one have allowed us to reach more families and make a bigger impact than either organization could have done individually.

A picture from 2017’s Share Your Love of Reading campaign! The VIP reader had students get up and dance!

A picture from 2017’s Share Your Love of Reading campaign! The VIP reader had students get up and dance!

Our Share Your Love of Reading Campaign was celebrated once again this May and was our most successful yet! We were able to distribute another 2,778 books to our Read Aloud Program participants due to the success of the campaign. Words Alive partnered up with local news stations, council members, and sports team representatives to make appearances in classrooms to read to elementary school students to help encourage their love for reading.

Image of a person with their back turned towards the camera. They are standing in front of one of the sculptures our students made for this year’s Art & Literacy Project.

Image of a person with their back turned towards the camera. They are standing in front of one of the sculptures our students made for this year’s Art & Literacy Project.

In June 2018, our Adolescent Book Group students participated in an exhibition at the San Diego Art Institute titled The Love You Give. Students created pieces of art and poetry focusing on the theme of “duality” and the novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Local artist Isaias Crow then combined these works of art into communal sculptures. With nearly 100 visitors coming to the exhibition, students were able to showcase their work to their closest friends and family. Students felt proud of themselves for learning and expressing themselves.

We had three Words Alive Westreich Scholarship (WAWS) recipients graduate this year! Zaphire Alonso Duarte, Zaira “Lexi” Martinez, and Domminiece Willis are proud graduates of San Diego City College and Southwestern College who are all continuing their studies at SDSU. When speaking about the program and scholarship, Lexi Martinez said, “My love for reading has been restored since I have been involved with them and I’ve always found a valuable support system within the organization.” We look forward to seeing where their degrees take them and helping more WAWS scholars in the future!

A group picture of The Butterfly Project presenters with Stephen Keiley's 8th grade class at Monarch School and Words Alive ABG volunteers.

A group picture of The Butterfly Project presenters with Stephen Keiley's 8th grade class at Monarch School and Words Alive ABG volunteers.

Words Alive provided the literacy piece of the Holocaust unit for Monarch School’s 8th graders. The students read three books: Night by Elie Wiesel, Maus by Art Spiegelman, and American Ace by Marilyn Nelson — then discussed the books and wrote about the themes with their volunteer team in bi-weekly sessions. As a culminating project, Words Alive partnered with The Butterfly Project, a local Holocaust education initiative. Children of Holocaust survivors led an engaging presentation and invited the Monarch students to each paint a butterfly to represent a child who died in the Holocaust as part of a larger global awareness campaign.

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

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

In August, we recognized our 2018-19 WAWS scholarship recipients. Words Alive awarded $37,500 in scholarships for the upcoming 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.

An image of our audience at the 15th Annual Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser watching Brittany Jackson, former ABG and WAWS participant, give her speech.

An image of our audience at the 15th Annual Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser watching Brittany Jackson, former ABG and WAWS participant, give her speech.

Our largest event of the year was the 15th Annual Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser. The marketplace, silent auction, and raffle gave patrons the opportunity to win spectacular prizes while also directly benefiting 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 thousands of children and families each year.

Author Mark Oshiro poses with one of our classes from Monarch School after giving a talk about his book, Anger is a Gift.

Author Mark Oshiro poses with one of our classes from Monarch School after giving a talk about his book, Anger is a Gift.

Most recently, we had author Mark Oshiro speak with students from Monarch School and Lindsay Community School. He focused on his life and his book, Anger is a Gift, which tells the story of resilience and loss. The students in attendance read the book over the past semester and were able to discuss the book and the themes surrounding it. Our programs focus on new, diverse, and relevant texts such as this one so that students can see themselves and their experiences represented.

2018 has been one of our best years yet and we are excited to continue inspiring a commitment to reading with the help of you, our community supporters. If you would like to get more information on upcoming events and programs, visit our page here. If you would like to donate or become a fundraiser to help us continue providing these programs, check out our Champions for Youth campaign that is running through January 27, 2019!

How Positive Adult Role Models Help Children Grow

By Jennifer Van Pelt

An image of two of our Read Aloud Program volunteers engaging with their preschool classroom.

An image of two of our Read Aloud Program volunteers engaging with their preschool classroom.

90% of a child’s brain develops by age five. First Things First describes how during these first five years, higher-level abilities such as motivation, self-regulation, problem solving, and communication are formed, given that the right role models are in the child’s life. Role models can include parents, babysitters, teachers, and even volunteers -- anyone who has a regular and positive part of a child’s life.

The foundation of  these relationships should be positive, nurturing, and equal. This two-way relationship is called a “serve and return” relationship because they are not one-directional but instead illicit mutual response and activity. The earliest signs of this can be a baby cooing or a toddler restlessly moving around -- these children are experiencing emotions and are trying to communicate, but are unable to at that point. It’s up to the guardian or caretaker to determine if they need a nap, an activity to do, or if they’re hungry.

The Center of the Developing Child at Harvard University notes that if an adult’s responses to a child are unreliable, inappropriate, or simply absent, the developing architecture of the brain may be disrupted and subsequent physical, mental, and emotional health may be impaired. By having positive influences who can respond to a child’s method of communication, children are active participants in the “serve and return” process. This network of different individuals in a child’s life (parents, caretakers, relatives, mentors, teachers) with different experiences, skills, and backgrounds all help to expand a child’s brain.

When it comes to teaching a child, it is more than teaching them right or wrong or the letters of the alphabet. Children pick up a lot of relationship cues from what others around them do, and sometimes copy them without intending to. Examples include how parents handle tense situations or how a babysitter might spend a majority of their time in front of a phone screen. An article published by the Ontario Ministry of Education discusses how all areas of child development are interconnected: emotions, language, and thinking. The emotion aspect comes from interaction between children and the important people in their lives. These series of relationships have the ability to affect how they interact with others and form their own relationships with people.

In an article about childhood brain development, Active For Life cited the fact that high quality and reliable relationships are key for children as they are developing. These relationships can come from a variety of different places, and Words Alive volunteers are one source of positive relationships for many children throughout San Diego. Our volunteers reliably show up to classrooms week after week, and model how joyful reading and learning can be through discussion, activities, and projects. We are proud to be recruiting volunteers that can be positive role models and a positive influence in the lives of these students. It’s even more gratifying knowing how important these positive relationships are for the children as they develop who they are and become active participants in our communities.

If you would like to donate or become a fundraiser to help us continue providing these high-quality programs and positive adult relationships to students, check out our Champions for Youth campaign that is running through January 27, 2019!

Sources:

https://www.firstthingsfirst.org/early-childhood-matters/brain-development/

https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/serve-and-return/

https://activeforlife.com/relationships-important-to-childs-brain/

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/childcare/clinton.pdf



Why We Should Own Books

By Jennifer Van Pelt

An image of a young student from Golden Hill pointing at a large pile of books at a book giveaway we hosted in 2017.

An image of a young student from Golden Hill pointing at a large pile of books at a book giveaway we hosted in 2017.

Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, The Going to Bed Book -- these are some of the most iconic children’s books today. You may have read them to young ones before bedtime or perhaps you had them read to you when you were young yourself. However, many children don’t have books read to them before bedtime because they don’t have home libraries or books at home. Having books in the home is important not only for bedtime stories and the routine it creates for a family, but also for the educational value books can provide to developing minds.

An analysis of nearly 100,000 school children across the United States found that access to printed materials is the critical variable affecting reading acquisition. Having books easily accessible, such as in the home, helps them enjoy reading and read more frequently. For a skill as important as reading, something that can change one’s social and economic standing for years to come, frequent exposure is imperative. It’s also been noted that even allowing a child to pick out a book that they would like to read teaches them autonomy and empowerment.

Previously, having college-educated parents was thought to be the top predictor of a child’s success in school. A study at the University of Reno found that both having a 500 book library or having university-educated parents propel a child an average of 3.2 years in their education. Though 500 books is a significant investment, having as few as 20 books in one’s home library can have an impact on a child’s future education, with the impact increasing as the number of books increase.

An article from The Atlantic discusses a community with high poverty rates that was found to have only one age-appropriate book per 33 children -- all of which were coloring books. By comparison, children in a middle-class community in the same city had access to 13 books per child. By slowly building home libraries in these communities, we can help develop an interest in reading in children.

Words Alive helps our participants in all programs build their home libraries. Our Family Literacy Program students take home a new book every week, culminating in 7 new books for their home libraries by the end of the program. Our Adolescent Book Group participants keep the books that we read together throughout the school year. We also have our Winter Book Giveaway coming up where we will be giving away 3,000 new books to students in our Read Aloud program.

If you would like to donate or become a fundraiser to help us continue building home libraries for students, check out our Champions for Youth campaign that is running through January 27, 2019!

Sources:

http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/face/pdf/research-compendium/access-to-books.pdf

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/07/where-books-are-nonexistent/491282/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100520213116.htm

https://booksaremagic.org/2012/03/14/book-ownership-matters/



Join Us & Become a Champion for Reading!

By Jennifer Van Pelt

November 27th was #GivingTuesday, a day to start the holiday season by donating to nonprofits as an act of philanthropy. Gaining more support each year, there was an estimated $274 million given to nonprofits in the United States on Giving Tuesday in 2017. Words Alive is joining in the season by launching our exciting new peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, Champions for Youth.

An image of a young child in our Read Aloud Program holding up a copy of “Are You My Mother?” and smiling at the camera. The image has text that says “Join us and become a champion for reading.”

An image of a young child in our Read Aloud Program holding up a copy of “Are You My Mother?” and smiling at the camera. The image has text that says “Join us and become a champion for reading.”

What is Peer-to-Peer Fundraising?

Peer-to-Peer fundraising is a social form of campaigning that focuses on building relationships with our supporter’s closest network -- their friends, family, or coworkers. As a non-profit, much of our time is spent writing extensive grant requests to donors and organizations. However, nothing compares to when our existing supporters reach out to their own social circle and seek connections that we would not otherwise be able to make. You are much more likely to support a cause that is important to a close family member or friend than from someone you have never met -- which is why we are so excited to get your support for our new campaign!

What is the Champions For Youth Campaign?

Champions for Youth is the key charitable initiative of the 2019 Farmers Insurance Open. Administering the program is the Century Club of San Diego, who selected 10 organizations that support youth and their families to participate. Words Alive will receive 100% of each donation with the potential to earn bonus money from the Farmers Cares Bonus Pool (which contains $260,000), based on the amount of donors and money we receive in relation to the other participating charities. For example, when 150 people donate at least $10 to our campaign, we’ll earn a bonus of at least $10,000 on top of what we’ve already raised. Incentives such as these continue throughout the campaign!

How do I Get Involved in the Campaign?

An image of Read Aloud Program students exploring a book together with Words Alive volunteer Sharon Gruby! A $100 donation to our Champions for Youth campaign provides 75 new books for children to take home and build their libraries.

An image of Read Aloud Program students exploring a book together with Words Alive volunteer Sharon Gruby! A $100 donation to our Champions for Youth campaign provides 75 new books for children to take home and build their libraries.

There are two ways to get involved: you can donate directly on our campaign page or become a fundraiser for Words Alive. By becoming a fundraiser, you are directly participating in the peer-to-peer aspect of the campaign by helping Words Alive reach new potential supporters that we wouldn’t normally be able to reach. To help realize the impact that certain donations have, the following show how important a small or large donation can be to children in need:

$10 Helps support one child in the Read Aloud Program for a month

$25 Provides a Kindergarten Readiness Tool Kit for a child

$50 Helps send a scholarship recipient to a workshop

$100 Provides a set of 5 brand new, diverse, and relevant books for a teen

A graphic featuring a quote from one of our Champions for Youth donors:  “I am very pleased with the work that Words Alive has championed, and I am impressed with all the young people they have been able to help. It's a great work - helping children read more can change their lives forever, and helping students get through college when they otherwise would not be able to, is an immesurable gift! Well done.” - Alesa Gibbs

A graphic featuring a quote from one of our Champions for Youth donors: “I am very pleased with the work that Words Alive has championed, and I am impressed with all the young people they have been able to help. It's a great work - helping children read more can change their lives forever, and helping students get through college when they otherwise would not be able to, is an immesurable gift! Well done.” - Alesa Gibbs

Our goal is to raise $60,000 dollars throughout the campaign, which will allow us to serve 300 students and families with high-quality programs. At Words Alive, we know that when children and their families are fully prepared to confidently approach and embrace their education, and when young adults are equipped with the knowledge and support to pursue higher education, they have the power to embody the true meaning of success. This all starts with reading and giving our communities the tools to thrive. Some of our supporters have gotten a head start on fundraising and have received the following comments from donors within their social circles:

“I am very pleased with the work that Words Alive has championed, and I am impressed with all the young people they have been able to help. It's a great work - helping children read more can change their lives forever…”

“Thank you for spending your time opening a new and, hopefully, kinder world for these kids!”

“Reading has always been important to me. I started reading very young and fell in love with the adventures in Narnia and the Shire. I hope that my small contribution can help a child build the skills they need to enjoy the beauty of literature.”

If you are interested in learning more about our participation in Champions for Youth or would like to see our training dates that support you in carrying out peer-to-peer fundraising, visit our page here.

Sources:

https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/news/2017-givingtuesday-raises-estimated-274-million-for-nonprofits

https://www.causevox.com/blog/peer-to-peer-fundraising-primer/

WAWS Evaluation Finding #3: Consistent Mentoring Inspires Consistent Students

To continually provide meaningful and evaluation-driven programming, Words Alive commenced on a seven-month Dialogues in Action (DIA) project to analyze the impact of our Words Alive Westreich Scholarship (WAWS) program using a blended qualitative and quantitative evaluation model. Through this process, we had an opportunity to view our program through the lens of the scholarship recipients, past and present, and their mentors to determine opportunities to enhance our program delivery.

Throughout this process, we identified eight findings and then brainstormed ways we could update and improve the program based on these findings. Here is the third finding!

An image of Jessica Fryman, Teen Services Program Manager, standing with mentor-mentee pair Alison and Paulina at the 2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Award Ceremony.

An image of Jessica Fryman, Teen Services Program Manager, standing with mentor-mentee pair Alison and Paulina at the 2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Award Ceremony.

Consistent Mentoring Inspires Consistent Students

Historically, the first-year scholarship students don’t answer emails, show up late, if at all, miss important deadlines and struggle to follow up when they say they will. Few offer excuses or apologies because before they entered the program, they were not accustomed to being asked for an explanation.

Interviews with scholars, all graduates of alternative high schools, revealed that they were unprepared for what would be expected of them in college and “the real world.” But through the norms and expectations of the WAWS program, scholars start to realize what is expected of them in the program, in school, future jobs and in healthy adult relationships.

About communicating violated expectations, one mentor said:

“I tried to be direct and honest. When my [first-year mentee] stood me up once or twice, I wrote her a letter and sent it to her home, telling her my expectations and how she had let me down. I hope she has a better idea that you have to show up and that commitments mean something.”

Scholars who met with their mentor consistently, on the other hand, demonstrated how that consistency became part of how they operated. This was especially true for scholars who had multi-year experiences in the program.

One such scholar, who now works as a financial advisor and manages a small group of employees, attributed her leadership skills to her mentor’s consistency:

“[My mentor] would visit me at school. We kept in contact and would catch up often, we would go hiking or meet up to eat. She was a really good friend,” the scholar said. “[She] taught me what it meant to be consistent.” – Scholar, age 18

Another scholar went on to say: “[My mentor] keeps me on track and helps me think of how to tackle things – usually along the lines of ‘stay on top of that until it’s done’, listing actions she’s taken as a result: consistently visiting professors during office hours to ask for grade progress or get help and following up by phone if an email goes unanswered. I’m adulting way better because of these skills.” – Scholar, age 26

When consistency in relationships becomes a habit, it bleeds into other aspects of life. Our research shows scholars with consistent mentorship also study regularly, turn in assignments on time and pay their bills when they are due.

One hundred percent of the scholars surveyed said they now take advantage of academic, professional and community resources at their disposal. Again, students who met with their mentor more frequently reported better follow through and higher competencies in several skill sets as demonstrated in the graph below.

A graph titled “Comparison of students’ self-reported growth in competencies based on frequency of mentor meetings”

A graph titled “Comparison of students’ self-reported growth in competencies based on frequency of mentor meetings”

Significance

The lives of most scholars up to the point of participating in the program have been anything but consistent. Their parents have been in and out of jail, in and out of drug rehab centers – and essentially, in and out of their lives. At times, the scholars have been unsure where they will sleep on any given night or when they will eat their next meal. Surviving one day to the next is all they know.

But when an engaged Words Alive mentor enters the picture, it gives the scholar new context for what it means to be reliable, to be professional, to be a successful adult. Like all skills – consistency is a learned behavior. Mentors who consistently interact with the scholars keep them accountable to the requirements of their schools, the scholarship program and their goals.

Learn more about the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship program here!

Annual Report: Adolescent Book Group

What happened in our Adolescent Book Group Program in the 2017-2018 school year? To start, ABG more than tripled the number of program sessions delivered within Juvenile Court and Community Schools. As students and volunteers met more frequently (bi-weekly or weekly), they not only developed a greater rapport, they dove deeper into the books. New extensive curriculum guides gave students the opportunity to explore more real-life contexts in order to connect the texts to themselves and bring books alive!

More than 80% of students:

  • agree that ABG has helped them develop a positive attitude toward books.

  • agree that ABG has helped their ability to express themselves in group discussions.

  • agree that ABG has improved their literary analysis abilities.

  • agree that ABG has improved their vocabulary.

Meet Brittany

Brittany being interviewed by Channel 8 News reporter, Jeff Zevely, during our annual Share Your Love of Reading campaign.

Brittany being interviewed by Channel 8 News reporter, Jeff Zevely, during our annual Share Your Love of Reading campaign.

Brittany Jackson truly represents our next generation of readers and leaders. Just seven years ago, Brittany was sitting on the other side of the Adolescent Book Group (ABG) discussion circle. Her first experience with Words Alive as an ABG participant was at Monarch School for homeless youth. After graduating from high school, Brittany became a Words Alive Westreich Scholarship (WAWS) recipient and her ABG volunteer mentored her through her college years. Now, the duo is back in ABG where it all began — this time as co-facilitators. Brittany is our first Teen Services participant to become a volunteer. She is both an ABG facilitator and WAWS mentor. Talk about full circle!

“Words Alive has supported me throughout the years, and I wanted to give back to them, and those involved, to show that same support. There’s not a day that I volunteer with Words Alive where I wish I wasn’t there. I love seeing all of the different youth involved in the program and how Words Alive positively impacts each of them.” -Brittany Jackson

Art & Literacy Event

An image of one of the communal wood sculptures designed by students during last year’s Art & Literacy Event.

An image of one of the communal wood sculptures designed by students during last year’s Art & Literacy Event.

For the fourth year in a row, we hosted an Art & Literacy project with our Adolescent Book Group students. The Love You Give Event was a response to The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas’ best-selling novel. The project creatively weaved the book’s message and themes into communal wood sculptures (pictured above) designed by local artist Isaias Crow, facilitated by Words Alive volunteers, and produced by students who attend alternative schools between North County and the border. Using the book as inspiration, students explored the duality of themes that they read about while expressing what it all meant to them and their world. San Diego Art Institute hosted a public exhibition of their work in June of 2018.

Read more about the event here!

Student Perspectives

“Whenever I read a book that really interested me, I liked how we would all have a discussion about it by sharing thoughts and opinions. I have always liked creative writing, especially when it is about a subject that has always fascinated me. The projects have helped me delve deeper into the story and learn more about the setting and the characters...Words Alive was helpful in expanding my interests in other reading genres.” —Student, Adolescent Book Group

WAWS Evaluation Finding #2: Communicated Expectations Improve Student Performance

To continually provide meaningful and evaluation-driven programming, Words Alive commenced on a seven-month Dialogues in Action (DIA) project to analyze the impact of our Words Alive Westreich Scholarship (WAWS) program using a blended qualitative and quantitative evaluation model. Through this process, we had an opportunity to view our program through the lens of the scholarship recipients, past and present, and their mentors to determine opportunities to enhance our program delivery.

Throughout this process, we identified eight findings and then brainstormed ways we could update and improve the program based on these findings. Here is the second finding!

An image of our scholar Damieon with his mentor David at the 2018 Words Alive Westrecih Scholarship Award Ceremony.

An image of our scholar Damieon with his mentor David at the 2018 Words Alive Westrecih Scholarship Award Ceremony.

Raising the Bar: Communicated Expectations Improve Student Performance

Remaining eligible for the WAWS program requires that students regularly meet with their mentor, turn in academic progress reports, maintain a 2.0 GPA while enrolled in six or more credits and attend at least three of the professional development workshops offered throughout the program year. The program was intentionally designed with these requirements with the hope that students would develop habits of accountability and timely communication. We also hope that students will learn that they will face consequences if they do not complete program requirements in a timely manner. For example, a late fund request could result in not receiving their financial aid until the next month, or if a student does not attend the required number of workshops, they could lose eligibility for the scholarship for the next school year.

Through the interviews, we found that many students did, in fact, learn these skills. One scholar said very explicitly:

“I’ve learned to have more responsibility. There are different tasks we have to do to complete the scholarship, like submitting our grades and meeting with our mentor once a month. We have to write notes about what happened during the month. This responsibility I’ve learned also helps a lot in school and with my job.” – Scholar, age 23

Another scholar remarked:

“I’ve learned how to be on top of things, how to make deadlines and turn things in on time. It’s been good practice.” – Scholar, age 22

Yet another scholar said:

“The number one and most valuable thing I’ve learned is organization. To get the funds you’re being checked in on monthly and that forced me to change my life around and make education my number one priority.” – Scholar, age 25

A graphic that features a quote from a scholar. The quote is overlayed on top of an image of post-it notes. The quote says the following: “I’ve learned to have more responsibility. There are different tasks we have to do to complete the scholarship, like submitting our grades and meeting with our mentor once a month. We have to write notes about what happened during the month. This responsibility I’ve learned also helps a lot in school and with my job.” – Scholar, age 23

A graphic that features a quote from a scholar. The quote is overlayed on top of an image of post-it notes. The quote says the following: “I’ve learned to have more responsibility. There are different tasks we have to do to complete the scholarship, like submitting our grades and meeting with our mentor once a month. We have to write notes about what happened during the month. This responsibility I’ve learned also helps a lot in school and with my job.” – Scholar, age 23

Clearly, the program requirements had the impact we intended. These requirements held students accountable and forced them to stay engaged with the program, and in the process, they learned responsibility, increased their communication skills and prioritized the scholarship and their education.

However, we also found that these requirements only had the impact we intended if the scholars understood and perceived them as mandatory. This past year it became clear to us that one scholar, who only met with his mentor three times, didn’t understand that attending the workshops was a mandatory requirement of the program.

In the survey, this scholar responded “moderately” to the statement: “I know what is expected of me by Words Alive and my mentor.” In this scholar’s interview, we saw a general lack of benefit from the WAWS program. When asked, “What changes are you seeing in your life as a result of the program?” he responded, “I haven’t really seen any changes in my life.” Comparing this answer with the other scholars, we see how the requirements being mandatory is absolutely essential.

Significance

It is significant that many scholars mentioned that the skills they learned because of these program requirements were then applied to other aspects of their life, such as school and work, which is imperative on their journey to adulthood.

We also found it interesting and surprising that while many scholars stated they had learned these skills (i.e. timely email communication, responsibility, organization, time management, etc.), they also often cited these same skills when asked about the recurring challenges they face. This points to the fact that these skills are a work in progress and take years to develop. The scholars’ self-awareness in their development is important because it shows they are capable of realizing where they started, what they have learned from the program and where they still have room for improvement.

Learn more about the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship program here!