Attorney Rachel Helyar is used to pressure. She regularly wades through thousands of pages of complex legal materials and writes appeal briefs under pressing deadlines.
But that stress pales compared to the tension in the 16th round of El Oro Way Elementary School's adult spelling bee.
Ten other contenders had been eliminated by words such as "obloquy" and "ophthalmologist." Now, for the win, came Helyar's turn. Her word? "Streuselkuchen," a kind of cake.
And, yes, she got it right.
Helyar went to El Oro Way to support the Parent Teacher Assn.'s first Family Literacy Day.
"I certainly believe in the importance of reading and setting a good example," she said. "Not just to tell [the children], 'Read, read, read,' but to show them I have a passion for reading too."
Much as at the Granada Hills campus, parent organizations throughout the Southland and the nation are seeking innovative ways to promote reading. The push to improve student test scores and reading proficiency in many cases is driving parents to be more creative than ever before.
At Camellia Elementary School in North Hollywood, parents help both teachers and students through tutoring. At Santa Monica Elementary School, parents are working to bridge cultural gaps as they help prepare children for the classroom.
Other parents at any number of schools are holding spelling bees, book-reading contests and other activities in hopes of encouraging children to become avid readers.
Analysis of national and international statistics shows that kids who read well in school are readers outside of school, invariably spurred on by parents, said Dave McGloin, national coordinator of Read Across America, a reading program sponsored by the National Education Assn.
Reading to children helps them learn to talk and how to use language properly, as well as how to read themselves, McGloin said. For parents, it's not just a matter of coming home exhausted at night and telling a story, but showing children basic practices, such as reading from left to right, top to bottom, and ending sentences with periods.
In 1998, the education commission of the California State PTA passed a resolution that made reading the No. 1 priority for communities as well as families and schools.
"The resolution means that the more than 1 million PTA members, through their proxy votes and the votes of their presidents, made it a goal to create lifelong readers. A resolution is our highest way of motivating things," said Jan Domene, vice president of communications for the state PTA.
Suggestions the group has made to local PTAs include sponsoring an author's day or an adopt-a-book club. Read-a-thons and birthday-book clubs are also good incentive programs, she said.
And libraries must play a part, said Patricia Hansen, reading library chairwoman of the Los Angeles 10th District Parent Teacher Student Assn.
"The key to success is a library card for everyone," she said.
Hansen encourages local PTSA members to volunteer in libraries to help compensate for staff shortages from budget cuts and to show children their commitment.
"The most important thing about family literacy is that it strengthens a family and builds a learning team," said Sharon Darling, founder and president of the National Center for Family Literacy.
In the 1980s, Darling and others began a program in Kentucky--designed to help encourage parent-child interaction--that led to the center's establishment.
Parents and schools should be a partnership, Darling said. If the home doesn't send the same message that the school is trying to send, the home is an obstacle.
At Camellia School, parent volunteers meet with a coordinator for 45 minutes of instruction every Wednesday morning. Immediately afterward, the parent-tutors help one or two children who have previously been identified as needing extra coaching.
Charlotte Castagnola, facilitator for the Parents as Learning Partners grant, trains the parents and teachers who work together in the free program.
"For five years I've been training people in 19 elementary schools in North Hollywood, Sun Valley and Arleta," she said. "Parents and teachers can learn together. That's the best way."
At Santa Monica Elementary, teacher Andy Johnsen coordinates activities at the Parent Center. One of the programs, called Lap Read, involves 20 parents and is designed to get children ready for classroom instruction.
"When the children first come to school, they don't know letters, colors, or even how to tie their shoes, so the whole kindergarten year is spent playing catch-up, and it puts them behind from then on," Johnsen said.
In Lap Read, the parents use puzzles and games borrowed from the kindergarten classes and, with the guidance of the kindergarten teacher, spend an hour a day, two days a week, working with children 6 months to 4 years old.
The program has been operating almost four years and is showing results, Johnsen said.
"Teachers report more participation, more verbalization, more confidence and more readiness to begin the classroom learning experience," Johnsen said.
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