Original URL: http://news.statesmanjournal.com/article.cfm?i=70936

Parents With Voices aims to help minority and low-income kids.
Statesman Journal
November 17, 2003

There’s nothing Connie Bustos would rather do than spend her time with 80 to 100 little children.

“It’s kind of cool, and crazy in the same way,” Bustos said as children scrambled for their backpacks at the end of story time recently. “It helps the Spanish kids learn English and the English kids learn Spanish. And it’s more education for them than just during school hours."

Three days per week, the 11-year-old Bustos reads to Auburn Elementary School students after school. Sometimes the students read to her. Then there are the parents reading to students, children reading to parents and students even reading to one another.

It’s a lot of reading, in care of Parents With Voices.

The volunteers focus on raising literacy among minority and low-income students by donating their own reading skills and time.

“It doesn’t take much to help a child,” said Teresa Villafan, the program’s director. “But it will take a lot to support these children later on” if they don’t learn to read well.

The parents began the program at Auburn in September and plan to begin similar reading hours at Grant Community School and Four Corners Elementary School, possibly later this school year.

When the Auburn program was announced, Villafan received 300 applications. She only has room for 100 students. She said that parents were excited by a free program that would inspire children to read more often.

The volunteers either split up with small groups of students or work one-on-one. Students read and are read to in English and Spanish and work on projects related to the stories they have read.

Villafan said she appreciates the 38 parents who already volunteer, but that she needs more to reach a goal of one parent for every two children.

The ratio was more like 80-to-1 last week when a special guest came to Auburn to read to a library full of wiggling students.

After reading several short books, Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, got a standing chorus of “thank you” from the young readers.

“Those of us know that if you can’t read, you won’t be able to achieve in life,” Winters said afterward. “Reading is the gateway to achievement.”

Besides parent volunteers, Villafan said the students need donations of books to take home with them.

“If we don’t get to the kids now, we may lose that passion and have them lose interest as they get into middle school,” she said.

Tara McLain can be reached at (503) 399-6705.
Copyright 2003 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon