CERRITOS — The group was a mixed bag. There were sailors, politicians, secretaries, bus drivers, custodians, homemakers, teen-agers and a former professional baseball player.
They were from various ethnic backgrounds. All spoke English but some were bilingual--fluent in Chinese, Korean, Spanish or Portuguese.
But for one day last week about 300 of them came together to share in a common task: Reading aloud to students in the ABC Unified School District.
Many Wore Uniforms
Many of them, like Navy petty officers Steven D. Myers and Willie Massaline and bus driver Sue Highland, wore their uniforms.
"We wanted to find a way to show students that people of all ages, from all types of backgrounds and ethnic groups, value reading. Even adults," said Helen Fried, district director of instructional services.
"We wanted to demonstrate to the students that reading can be fun, adventurous, exciting. And everyone, from crossing guards to politicians, reads."
Teaching people to read, Fried added, is fairly easy. The hard part is to keep them interested in reading. "We want to convince them to become lifelong learners, readers," she said.
The district bought about 400 paperback books for about $2,000 to launch its first "I Love to Read Day," said Linda Kurz, district coordinator of community programs, who helped Fried organize the event.
Telephone calls were made to service clubs and flyers were sent throughout the community to get volunteers to participate.
The readers--including 50 Cerritos High School students--went to 25 schools within the 29-school district, which serves Cerritos, Artesia, Hawaiian Gardens and parts of Lakewood, Norwalk and Long Beach. About half of the 22,000 students in the district listened to a reader, Kurz estimated.
Books Delivered a Week in Advance
To help the volunteers, especially the adults, overcome the nervousness of reading aloud before their youthful audiences, the readers were given their books and summaries of the plots a week in advance.
Some of the adults were still nervous on Wednesday, the day of the big event.
"Look, I'm not used to this," Massaline said to the seventh-grade English class at Killingsworth Junior High School in Hawaiian Gardens.
But Massaline brought help in the form of his fellow Navy petty officer, Myers. Between the two of them, they have more than 20 years at sea. Both are stationed with the Navy Recruiting District in Los Angeles.
Myers read the summary of a book entitled "The Fighting Ground," which is about a 13-year-old boy going off to war during the American Revolution.
Massaline read about 20 pages of the book and then answered questions.
One student wanted to know what country Massaline liked best during his 17 years in the Navy. He said it was Scotland.
'No Youth Gangs'
"There are no youth gangs in Scotland. Policemen do not carry guns. I'm going to return there someday after I retire and open a restaurant," Massaline said.
Bus drivers Highland and Pamela Miller got over their nervousness quickly while reading to students at Burbank Elementary School in Artesia.
"The students see us as bus drivers all the time. Today, they realize we are people other than bus drivers," Miller said.
"I really enjoyed it," Highland said.
"I didn't start reading (for pleasure) until I was 31. Now, I read all the time. I read mostly general and historical fiction," said 41-year-old Bellflower businesswoman Ramona Garrett.
"I'm so excited to be a part of the program, to tell students how thrilling reading can be. I don't want them to wait as long as I did to start reading."
Cerritos Councilman Don Knabe, school board President Catherine Grant, former Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Joe Moeller, district custodian Frank Pereira--who read in his native Portuguese, as did a number of bilingual participants--all agreed they enjoyed their volunteer work.
"We'll probably do it again next year," Fried said.