Adolescent Book Group

Reading To Evolve, To Connect, and To Share

By Dawn Miller, Head Teacher at Lindsay Community School

An image of Dawn with her students as they hold up copies of the book,  Pride .

An image of Dawn with her students as they hold up copies of the book, Pride.

Twenty years ago, I was approached by my then principal Tracy Thompson and Leslye Lyons about launching a book club for my students at Lindsay Community School. Books and reading had played an integral role in my own survival as a child and young adult, and this fundamental understanding of the undeniable power of words naturally translated into my classroom at Lindsay, where we try to provide any and every opportunity for our students to latch onto a book and fly

So of course, when I met Leslye, we jumped at the chance to work with her and her new Words Alive project. And for any of you who have ever met Leslye, you know that she has that twinkle of the eye when she’s talking about books -- the one that tells you she doesn’t just read for leisure or entertainment, Leslye reads to evolve,  to connect, to unlock and share the secrets of our own humanity.  This rare and discerning awareness provided the foundation for Words Alive, and has guided the powerful work that has continued to come out of this project for the last 20 years. I recognized that twinkle the moment I met her, like when pain sees pain, or struggle sees struggle, with no words spoken -- and we couldn’t wait to begin the work.  

For the past 20 years, Words Alive volunteers have come into our school space, each month, to engage in the sparring of book talk. If I could give a quick shout out to our current volunteers - Mona, Geri, Sally and Jean - these extraordinary women also go around flashing that eye-twinkle-thingy and they share so much of their hearts with our students — we are deeply indebted. 

I’m assuming that most of the folks in attendance here today, also have a passion for reading, and you all might think that conveying that passion to and with a group of young folks might be challenging, but ultimately doable because you just know they’re gonna love that right book so much because your own love of books - it’s just a matter of getting that right book in the right hands . . .   But with our students, both at Lindsay and JCCS-wide, sharing this love requires you to put in work - real work - sometimes uncomfortable, often gut-wrenching and always formidable, work. Because as you may or may not know, the students of Lindsay are young mothers, and this already exiled status is compounded by homelessness, physical and sexual abuse, abandonment, family separation, system brutalities and endless other traumas and tragedies that the very best of us here, could not withstand.  BUT they make their way, each day - and I share their struggles with you now, not for sympathy (for sympathy does not empower), but to highlight their extraordinary resilience and undeniable courage in a world that works daily to smother them.

So when our Words Alive volunteers come monthly to spar - they come armed with books, of course, but more importantly, they come armed with compassion and understanding, without judgement or verdict, ready to learn and listen to one another in endless acts of patience and love. The girls also come packing - with sharp and quick-witted tongues, astute analyses, profound reflections, and grand criticisms. And somewhere in the middle of this motley crew, a million magical moments of hope are born. Books and reading are already mighty in their own right, but in the right context and wielded in a righteous way, they are also transformative.

What is borne of those monthly book circles is hard to describe, but what I witness can most aptly be called a political act. Sometimes the students are emboldened by stories of rebellion and insurrection, led by stronger-than-life women characters, real and unreal. Other times they are enthralled by collections of poetry that rip their already broken hearts out, but also remind them that through their pain comes strength. Often, they are so moved by a story or character battling similar Sisyphean struggles to their own, they become immediately resolved to pen their own stories of inequity, but this time, and in real life, with endings of justice and liberation.

Regardless of the book, it is in these moments that reading becomes an emancipatory act - a momentary vision of what is possible and how to get there. These students, who have been systematically stripped of their dignity, are suddenly circled in a space where they find themselves, their dreams and their words, ALIVE.  






Words Alive 2019-2020 Sneak Peek!

By Omar Jawdat, Blog Intern

The new school year has begun, which means  Words Alive’s Adolescent Book Group and Read Aloud Program are back! We are excited to have our volunteers engage with students in the classrooms while reading books out loud and talking about them together. In both programs, our curriculum focuses on a diverse range of popular stories that students can see themselves in and connect with. Here is a sneak peek of just a few of the books that we’ll be reading in the program this year! 

Read Aloud Program: Our Upcoming Curriculum

An image of three of our RAP books:  Trick-or-Treat: A Happy Hunter’s Halloween, Dinosaur Bones,  and  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

An image of three of our RAP books: Trick-or-Treat: A Happy Hunter’s Halloween, Dinosaur Bones, and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Although children’s books are usually shorter, we want to make sure that each student gets the opportunity to absorb the values of these books, so they can learn from the text and dedicate themselves to truly appreciating all the different books that are brought to them. Rather than merely reading through one book and moving onto the next, our volunteers bring the books to life by asking questions before, during, and after reading aloud to encourage students to participate. This will also help students gain an interest in reading in and outside the classroom. The enjoyment of reading a good book is a valuable aspect in a student’s life, and will help their reading skills in the future. It will also help children develop cognitive language and social-emotional skills. 

October is Halloween month! Which means we will be reading the book titled Trick-or-Treat: A Happy Hunter’s Halloween. The book will introduce students to the creativity of poetry, as it is composed of 15 poems, each with unique Halloween celebrations with bright and colorful illustrations. During reading, our volunteers help students point out words that give the poems that scary Halloween feeling, as well as which lines have rhyming words, how each poem is different, and the emotions behind them. This allows children to learn about alliteration and rhyming patterns. Students are also given the chance to create their own silly alliterations and share their Halloween costumes with their peers.

Volunteers will also be introducing and reading the book Dinosaur Bones. This book will bring the dinosaurs back to life, with Bob Barner’s lively rhyming text and curiosity induced information about dinosaurs. Through paper collages, the book also contains vibrant illustrations of dinosaur bones that can be found in museums. Students will engage with several questions about the variety of dinosaurs, identifying and differentiating them by name, size, weight, and appearance. This will also help children develop an understanding of history (time periods and timelines), and they will learn new terms, as well as other interesting facts! Dinosaur Bones will spark a child’s inner scientist, and make enthusiasts roar with delight.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is the story of a boy named William Kamkwamba, who’s village has been struck by a terrible drought, causing his family and his village to lose all their crops, resulting in having nothing to eat. Through exploring the science books in his village, William found the solution, which was to build a windmill that would bring electricity back to the village, and helps his family pump water to farm the land again. This book inspires children, as well as evokes perseverance, and teaches kids new terms/words, such as “drought” or “windmill”, for example. Students will also be able to learn about the different environments that other kids live in, showing how their lives are different than ours.

Adolescent Book Group Program 

An image of three of our ABG books:  A Very Large Expanse of Sea ,  The Poet X , and  Hey, Kiddo .

An image of three of our ABG books: A Very Large Expanse of Sea, The Poet X, and Hey, Kiddo.

Our ABG program serves teenagers from alternative schools who have gone through adversity such as violence, teen pregnancy, and homelessness. Our Words Alive volunteers provide teens with engaging book discussions, writing workshops, and projects that help bring books alive. 

Hey, Kiddo by Jarret J. Krosoczka is one of the books that will be introduced to the classroom for the first time this year! Expressing the unfortunate circumstances of troubled families, Hey Kiddo tells the story of a young man, Krosoczka, who lives with his grandparents, due to his mother being an incarcerated heroin addict. Not knowing who his father is, Krosoczka seeks to find him, while also facing problems with his mother, his daily livelihood, and making it to become an artist. This book depicts the impact of change in one’s life, as many teens struggle to find themselves in identifying who they truly are. This book also explores themes of addiction, abuse, and growing up in a non-traditional environment. The struggling relationships between families and the overwhelming path that leads to achieving success are also impacting aspects of the book. Art is an inspiring theme in the novel, as it is the aspiring focus and profession that Krosoczka wishes to pursue.

Another story that will be presented to the classroom will be The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. This fictional novel surrounds itself on the basis of racial identity, stereotypes, and the bonds between communities. The main character, Xiomara Batista feels neglected and unable to truly speak her mind in her Harlem neighborhood. All her heartfelt thoughts and inner emotions pour out into her notebook, where she writes and recites her words like poetic prayers. Xiomara lives in a religious environment, and falls into a deep crush on a boy named Aman. Students will be able to learn how to break free and have their own voice in life as well. The power of words is also emphasized with this reading, and will also encourage students to participate more in classes, extracurricular events/activities, and develop positive hobbies that they find interesting, or are passionate about.

Last but certainly not least, volunteers will be introduced to A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi. Another fiction novel, taking place in 2002. A year after 9/11, the story focuses on race, xenophobia, romance, relationships, and assumptions. Politically, it is an extremely sensitive time, especially for sixteen-year-old Shirin, a Muslim girl living in America. Shirin has to endure prejudice from people demeaning her as an outcast in society because of her religious and racial identity. She is also attacked for the hijab that she wears everyday, which even results in physical violence. Because of her circumstances, she must build protective walls, until she meets Ocean James, who really seems like he wants to get to know her. However, it will be difficult for Shirin to bring her guard down and develop a friendship. The aim of this story is to teach students to respect other cultures and backgrounds different from their own. Students will also learn about stereotypes and unfair treatment, as well as how to form friendships with different types of people, regardless of their religion, sex, or race.  

These books are only a few that we have previewed for a sneak peak into what we’ll be reading with students this year. These engaging themes, topics, diverse stories, characters, and texts are sure to get all of our students excited and interested in reading, as they learn and discover new things this school year!      


A New Perspective on ABG

By Tait Longhi, Blog Intern

An image of an ABG student working on a writing prompt.

An image of an ABG student working on a writing prompt.

As I walked into Monarch School in downtown San Diego, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I knew that I would be sitting in on an Adolescent Book Group to get a sense of what Words Alive volunteers do and see how it affects the teens. When Jeffery Goldman, Words Alive volunteer and former Board Chair,walked into the lobby and took me to the classroom, he gave me more details about the school, specifically how every child who walks through the doors has been affected by homelessness.  

What struck me immediately was the excitement from the students to partake in the warm up activities. Jeffery tasked the kids with writing as many words ending with “r”, then “t”, then “e” in a minute. While all the kids focused on their own task at hand, however, there was still a level of collaboration with one another. The desire for each student to help their classmate was evident, giving the exercise a new depth. While it was a friendly competition, they wanted each other to succeed.

Next, Jeffery gave them their writing assignment for the session that would be turned in via Google Docs before the next time he meets with them. Since they were reading Night by Elie Wiesel, the writing topic was “when was there a time when you felt as if you lost hope, but overcame it.” This question obviously can get quite personal, but many of the students took it head on, while others pondered on what they might write about. Watching the natural writing process in these young students was inspiring and really brought me back to when I was young, first experiencing writer's block or nerves of starting to put words on paper. All that being said, the support from Jeffery, their teacher and fellow classmates got the ball rolling for most and those who didn’t finish their work knew that they could thaw out their ideas in time and share it with Jeffery when they were ready.

One student shared her piece with the class, about when her father fell and hit his head and had to go to the hospital. I was taken aback by how eloquent her story was and how much bravery it took to share her story, especially at her age. Upon leaving, Jeffery and I talked about the program. He explained that that the stories they kids tell are truly incredible and can even move him (or many) to tears.

As I got in my car and looked over my notes before leaving, I was particularly moved by how these kids threw themselves onto the page, or at least made the effort to. It reminded me of my own time in middle school a decade ago, and how vulnerable that can be but how important that process is. Self expression through writing can be one of the best ways to release or understand your own emotions or thoughts, in my personal opinion. The fact that Words Alive not only sees that, but promotes it to young children makes me particularly happy to be working (and writing) for this organization.  




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!

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. 

Save the Date For Our Annual Art & Literacy Event!

At Words Alive, our goal is to help the students in our programs make connections between books and themselves, others, and the world. By learning that books have implications beyond being "just another school assignment", we hope to help students and families fall in love with reading and become life-long learners.

One way we accomplish this is through the Arts Component of our Adolescent Book Group (ABG). Each year, ABG students participate in a program-wide literacy and arts project that enhances the reading experience and encourages students to think critically about themes in the book and their own environment.

An image of a student from Monarch holding her piece of the communal sculpture. Her piece was based around the theme, "grief."

An image of a student from Monarch holding her piece of the communal sculpture. Her piece was based around the theme, "grief."

This year’s project, called "The Love You Give," is a response to Angie Thomas' #1 bestselling novel The Hate U Give. The project creatively weaves the book’s message and themes into a communal wood sculpture designed by artist Isaias Crow, facilitated by Words Alive volunteers and produced by students who attend Juvenile Court and Community Schools.

If you're an avid reader of our blog, you'll know that we recently published a piece about the connection between art and literacy. A study was done on students who participated in the “Learning Through the Arts” (LTA) Program at the Guggenheim Museum. Over 200 students and teachers participated in the program and were later tested and interviewed to monitor their progress. A few notable outcomes came about from this program, as noted by ArtsEdSearch:

  • There were increases in critical thinking and literacy skills among students who participated in the LTA Program.

  • LTA students provided interview responses using language associated with higher grade levels and with more words than those who did not go through the program.

All of this explains why we continue to coordinate this project year after year. This study, and others before it, supports the idea that art education teaches more than just art: it helps to expand critical thinking and language development. We know first hand how meaningful this project is to our students, and how beneficial it is to some of them to approach learning in a different way.

An image of a student from 37ECB holding his piece of the communal sculpture. His piece was based around the theme, "bravery."

An image of a student from 37ECB holding his piece of the communal sculpture. His piece was based around the theme, "bravery."

One of our ABG volunteers, Allison Keltner, had the following to say about facilitating this year's project at 37ECB:

After nearly a full semester working with the students at 37ECB, I looked forward to the Arts Component project for The Hate U Give. Each week, we saw a range of participation levels and interest from the students—from those who would barely utter a word to those who gladly took charge of the discussion—and I expected (hoped!) that most would be into the art project.

I wondered, week to week, what the students were really getting out of the discussions we were leading. Some that would be really into it one week wouldn’t speak up the next; others seemed constantly distracted. But in every session, I was always impressed at least once by someone’s insight or reaction to the book. What I enjoyed most about the Arts Component was seeing something from every student. I was thrilled to see their artwork and hear how each related their piece to the theme of bravery.

I had a hunch that at least a couple kids would thoroughly enjoy getting to express themselves in a different way. And surprise, surprise: once we set up the paints, two of the quietest students immediately picked a spot together away from the rest of the group and settled down to work. They were so intent, and took such care and thought in perfecting their pieces, that we had to give them extra time the following week to finish painting.

Jessica Fryman, our Teen Services Program Manager, had the following to say about this year's project:

“The arts project really brings the book alive for the kids. It’s really special to see students connect to what they’re reading and be able to express themselves.”

A reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, June 8 at San Diego Art Institute, 1439 El Prado in San Diego. You won't want to miss the chance to see these inspiring pieces! The San Diego Art Institute is also hosting a community art day, which will showcase the exhibit and artwork from other Title 1 schools from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 9.

We hope to see you there to celebrate art and literacy with us! 

The Intersection of Art and Literacy Education

By Jennifer van Pelt

All of our programs aim to help students not only understand the importance of literacy but also fall in love with reading themselves. Our Words Alive Adolescent Book Group takes many different approaches to this, from hosting book club style discussion sessions to working on projects to writing workshops. Each year, we also hold an Arts Component that focuses on connecting a book, theme, and art medium into one exhibit created by the students. As an organization that focuses on increasing literacy in our community, part of our mission is to inspire a commitment to reading. Art brings that opportunity to inspire by allowing the conversation to be more accessible to those who may lack the confidence or interest in reading.

Case Study: Learning Through the Arts

A study was done on students who participated in the “Learning Through the Arts” (LTA) Program at the Guggenheim Museum. Over 200 students and teachers participated in the program and were later tested and interviewed to monitor their progress. For the study, an equal number of individuals did not participate in the program and were also tested at the end of the year, serving as the control group. A few notable outcomes came about from this program, as noted by ArtsEdSearch:

  • There were increases in critical thinking and literacy skills among students who participated in the LTA Program.

  • LTA students provided interview responses using language associated with higher grade levels and with more words than those who did not go through the program.

  • Teaching artists felt that their participation in LTA led them to change their teaching practice by trying new things with students, especially finding strategies to reach below average students.

This study, which included over 400 students in the state of New York, echoes the studies of others that indicate that art education teaches more than just art: it helps to expand critical thinking and language development. Additionally, with classroom sizes steadily increasing, it is important to note that bringing in supplemental forms of learning, such as art education, can appeal to those who are visual or kinesthetic learners and may be overlooked if they learn in different ways compared to their classmates.

How Can You Help Bring Art Education Into The Home?

Parents don’t need to be artistic to encourage art education in the home. As noted by Art Therapist Anna Reyner, there are a few simple ways to bring the arts into your home that will help to encourage and develop the same skills that are important for reading and writing.

  • Make art a family activity.

  • Have a corner dedicated to art activities (This can be the same as your reading corner!).

  • Create homemade art journals.

  • Relate drawings/art projects to books you’ve recently read.

These tips, though more so applicable to young children, develop habits and interests that can prove helpful throughout the child’s future schooling experience.

The Words Alive Annual Arts Component

Looking at the last tip in the list above (“relate drawings/art projects to books you’ve recently read”), this is exactly what we aim to do in our annual Arts Component. As mentioned previously, each year we have our students focus on a different book, theme, and art medium. This year, our students are going to be creating murals based on the novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and using the theme “duality” as inspiration. Through this process, students learn how to connect the text to themselves and the world through art and, in the end, have the chance to see their art professionally displayed in a local gallery.

In many American schools, standardized testing is emphasized to the extent that art education can fall to the side as an extracurricular activity. By understanding the benefits art has on the reading, writing, and overall literacy skills of an individual, we can bring that same awareness back in to the classroom and home. Partnering art and literacy education serves as a multi-faceted teaching tool that can create a bigger, more meaningful impact.

For more information on our upcoming Arts Component, or any of our other programs, visit the main section of our website.

Sources:

https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED466413.pdf

http://nasaa-arts.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/critical-evidence.pdf

http://www.artsedsearch.org/summaries/teaching-literacy-through-art

http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=509