– The effort to improve literacy among Gilroy public school
children will become a community effort, at least for next week,
GILROY – The effort to improve literacy among Gilroy public school children will become a community effort, at least for next week, that is.
From Nov. 18 to 22, the Gilroy Unified School District will join forces with city agencies and the local media in the hopes of making reading and writing a more important part of the community fabric. “Love of Literacy Week” is the first-of-its-kind celebration in Gilroy. It includes participation in national essay contests, special appearances by high-profile community members who will read to kids in class and a citywide effort to get a current library card in the hands of every public school student in Gilroy.
“The purpose is to be engaging our community in not only the value of reading and writing, but also the joy. It’s an important part of what we’re trying to do in this district in terms of trying to improve student literacy,” said Jacki Horejs, the district’s assistant superintendent of educational services. “This is a project that is near and dear to my heart.”
Gilroy Unified has long under-performed on state and national standardized tests for literacy. Scores released by the state this fall ranked Gilroy students, across many different grade levels, as “below basic” in English/Language Arts skills. Across all subjects, just over half of local schools met their improvement goals set by the state.
One of the week’s highlights, and something anyone in the community can take part in, will be on Nov. 19. Called “Turn Off the TV Tuesday,” the day, as its name indicates, is an opportunity for families to spend time reading rather than planting themselves on the couch in front of a TV.
GUSD parent Rob van Herk appreciates the district’s push for literacy.
“Tuesday’s challenge certainly makes a lot of sense,” said van Herk, whose school-aged children are in the district’s GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program.
Van Herk said he believes an important factor in his children’s ability to read two to four grade levels ahead of their average peer is that he brought them to bookstores before they could read.
“It definitely made them more receptive to picking up a book,” van Herk said.
Van Herk is the district’s volunteer Webmaster. Next week, a special Web page with information on “Love of Literacy Week” will take over the district’s regular Web site.
“All the regular information will still be available, but ‘Literacy Week’ will come up first,” van Herk explained.
On the Web page, links explaining each day’s events at each school will be provided. A dummy page is online at www.vanherk.com/literacy. The page should be up and running by Wednesday or Thursday of this week, van Herk said.
Many of the ideas for school events came from the district’s parent advisory group, Horejs said, including bringing high-profile community members into classrooms to read stories to kids.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed that (Superintendent Edwin Diaz) might be able to persuade Jeff Garcia to come,” Horejs told trustees at last week’s school board meeting.
As of press time, the district had not made contact with the San Francisco 49er quarterback, whose father coached Diaz when he played football at Gavilan College.
Diaz said he wasn’t counting on an appearance by Garcia.
“He’s usually pretty booked and it’s pretty late to expect him to commit,” Diaz explained.
Horejs also encouraged school board trustees to come to classrooms as celebrity readers.
Literacy activities will vary at each school site and across different grade levels, Horejs said. Some schools are doing a “biography week” where students will give oral biographies of Gilroy community members. Written histories will be kept in school libraries for future access.
Other schools will have dress up days where students and teachers can come in costume as their favorite fictional character. Educational activities, such as oral book reports, could be done in connection with that theme.
Gilroy students will also participate in a national essay contest sponsored by the Library of Congress and the Weekly Reader and Horejs said a time next week will be designated as DEAR time, Drop Everything And Read.
“It’s a particular point time in time where we want everyone in the whole community to read just to show how important this is …,” Horejs said.
A specific time has not yet been designated.
Mayor of Gilroy
Favorite Book: “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert A. Heinlein
Book synopsis: “Stranger in a Strange Land” tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, orphaned progeny of the first manned expedition to Mars, who has been raised by Martians and brought back to Earth by a second human expedition. Though he is a man in his twenties, Smith looks at absolutely everything on this new planet through the ignorant eyes of a baby and faces the job of learning how to be a human being.
Why is it your favorite book?: “Because of what it tells us about culture and how we perceive people different from ourselves. It provides a lot of insight into human character.”
How did it change your life?: “I started to get a better look at people. Just imagine yourself as a visitor from a different planet. It makes you full of curiosity.”
Why did you read the book?: “I read it for fun when I was 17 or 18 years old. I’ve probably read it four or five times cover to cover and I pick it up and read passages from it every once in awhile.