Program helps Latino families bond over books

Lorenzo Torres, a 40-year-old Los Osos construction worker, says he loves to read. But that wasn’t always the case.

Now he hopes to inspire his 5-year-old son, Eric, to enjoy books as he learned to do after attending a special program in Los Osos that encourages family literacy.

For the past eight Tuesdays, after long days of work at construction sites countywide, Torres attended the Los Osos Latino Family Literacy Project program with a group of about 30 local parents.

The group last week celebrated its graduation from the free course with the three teachers — Evelyn Frame, Brooke Segler and Rob Banfield.

“I read to my son now about four times per week for about 30 minutes each time,” Torres said. “I really want to prepare him as well as I can for college.”

San Luis Coastal Unified School District’s Adult School, as well as Monarch Grove and Baywood elementary schools, funded the program, which cost about $3,500.

The project, which just completed its second year, encourages Spanish-speaking families to develop reading routines and improve their reading skills.

Each book featured a story printed in English on one page and Spanish on the other to encourage a bilingual experience between parents and children.

Frame said the course helps parents develop a positive educational environment at home and promote skills that will help their children get to college.

“It provides our parents with a way to expand and strengthen their community in a family educational setting,” Frame said.

Torres, who has taken both sessions of the program, said he wanted to enroll in the class partly to improve his English, which is quite proficient now, his teachers say.

Torres is also the father of two 16-year-old twin boys and wishes he could have provided better educational support to them when they were young.

Books and potlucks

Students enjoy the community aspect of the program that brings them together with peers.

They shared in making potluck meals for the dinner held every night of the class, and the program offered day care as well for the 30 children who accompanied their mothers and fathers.

The students read one book a week and discussed themes of responsibility, overcoming hardships and family values.

One of the eight books in the program, “Teo en Palo Verde,” is about a poor family’s move to a new community and how the neighbors generously help them.

“We discuss questions that they might pose to their older children, have them predict their child’s reaction to a story and relate it to a personal event in their own lives,” Frame said.

Rosa Topete, a homemaker with four children ages 1 1⁄2 to 16, says she now reads to her children often and has enjoyed helping them learn.

“We like to talk about the stories and share our thoughts,” Topete said in Spanish. “I don’t know a lot of English. This really has helped me.”

Frame said that some of the parents will read to their children in Spanish, which improves their skills, and the kids will read back in English.

As a keepsake for their children, the parents put together a scrapbook they presented at Tuesday’s graduation that included a drawing of their childhood homes and a letter to their children about their memories.

The scrapbooks include photos that parents took of their children during the course of the program, as well.

“The scrapbooks serve to show that literacy is not just taking books from the library but includes family stories, letters, notes and photographs,” Frame said.