Literacy programs - a treasure for Santa Paula

July 18, 2001
Columnist

In keeping with Santa Paula’s strong tradition of volunteer action, nearly 80 people take time from busy lives to tutor for the various literacy programs offered through Blanchard Community Library. These quiet helpers work with adults, children, and whole families, carrying out the programs initiated by Elaine Hunt and her staff.

By Dora P. Crouch[This is the second in a series of articles by Trustees of Blanchard Community Library to inform residents about their library.]In keeping with Santa Paula’s strong tradition of volunteer action, nearly 80 people take time from busy lives to tutor for the various literacy programs offered through Blanchard Community Library. These quiet helpers work with adults, children, and whole families, carrying out the programs initiated by Elaine Hunt and her staff.Most of the clients come from families that are poor, limited English speakers, who have been poorly educated. To help them prepare for better lives, the FLAIR programs offer Adult Literacy, Families for Literacy, the Parenting Program, and the Angel Program.In the Adult Literacy program, clients can begin with English as a Second Language, taught to two or three students at a time, and utilizing language tapes and interactive computer software. When the client has progressed through several levels of ESL instruction, the person is ready for instruction in reading and writing in English, math, and job skills. In the computer lab they can continue instruction in ESL, GED (a general education degree), reading and math. Students can go on to better jobs, advanced training or higher education, and achieving citizenship.Families for Literacy involves parents whose children are 2-8 years old. They meet in discussion groups and workshops that make reading a family fun activity, by teaching parents how to read to their children. Stressing the importance of parents as the first teachers of their children, the program assists parents to influence their children to stay in school. Children select free books to take home, beginning a home library, and reinforcing the pleasure of reading.The Parenting Program provides guidelines for parenting skills for any adult who functions as a parent. The program’s curriculum and instructional resources are provided by the California State Families for Literacy. Careful sensitivity for cultural differences marks the program, which offers information and not advice; parents are encouraged to integrate the new information with their previous life experience. This program has five goals: to break the cycle of low literacy; to promote conscious positive modeling of parents and care givers; to educate parents to be their children’s first teachers; to empower children with literacy skills and self-esteem; and to instruct the adults in using children’s books to teach their children and to spend quality time with them.
Meanwhile, another group of volunteers constitutes the Angel Program, working with children who are not doing well in elementary school. These children are not eligible for special education classes, but those who have difficulty with school requirements. The volunteers work at the schools one or two days a week.Altogether, there are now 55 adult clients, 45 taking ESL, 23 children in the Angel Program, and 20 to 25 families in Families for Literacy. Year after year, Elaine Hunt, Barbara Rios (office manager), Kathryn Bornhausser (Families for Literacy director), Vanessa Bracamontes (ESL teacher), and their assistants Alma Lino, Yajayra Hernandez and Xavier Montes have acted on their belief that it is “better to light one candle than curse the darkness.”To keep the tutors up to date, there are summer workshops to improve techniques. On July 24, for instance, there will be a two-hour workshop on “Techniques for Teaching Correct Pronunciation,” and on August 2 another on “Teaching Written Language and Spelling.” Training for new tutors is repeated about every six weeks.These programs could not run without money. Blanchard Library provides about half the budget from its general fund, used mainly for the adult literacy program. Grants and donations make up the rest of the budget. Notable is the annual Spelling Bee sponsored by the Santa Paula Times and supported by service organizations and businesses that pay to participate. Recent grants have come from GTE, Amgen, and the Women’s Legacy Fund. Limoneira supports these programs regularly. Ideas for contacting grant providers come from workshops at the Ventura County Community Foundation, its staff and its resource library.When asked how the staff and volunteers maintain their enthusiasm for this important work, Elaine Hunt replied that they all believe in the programs. So many positive changes in people’s lives - from no English and no reading skill and no writing, to mastery and on to better jobs and improved life quality - motivate staff and volunteers to keep working with clients.



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