Program provides opportunity to improve literacy
THE SANTA CLARA
February 25, 2016
Next month, three university employees who serve on the Bon Appetit dining staff in the Benson Memorial Center will be published authors.
Their writings will be printed in an annual collection of work by participants in Read Santa Clara, the City of Santa Clara’s adult literacy program.
“It’s a huge huge deal. It’s a celebration of the gift of literacy,” said Shanti Bhaskaran, Read Santa Clara’s program supervisor.
Read Santa Clara is a free, year-round program open to all adults in the City of Santa Clara who test at or below an eighth grade literacy level and can commit to spending two hours a week with a tutor at a local library.
Participants in the program are paired with a volunteer tutor to work on custom goals they set centered around improving reading, writing, math and digital literacy. For Benson workers Paul Barcelos and Daciano Silva, the program has made a significant impact on their lives.
“You’re not afraid to look for letters and read letters. You’re more excited. It opens up your horizons,” Silva said. “It opens up a new world,” Barcelos added, also citing his increased confidence.
School didn’t always come easy for Silva, who is native to Portugal but completed high school in the U.S. After taking both special education and traditional classes throughout his academic career, he received his high school diploma and began working at the university in 1989. Even after finishing high school, however, he was dissatisfied.
“I still felt like I needed to learn more,” he said. “I just kind of felt cheated.”
After seeing Barcelos reading a library book one day, Silva found out about Read Santa Clara. Barcelos, who has been a part of the program for about 15 years, is also a longtime employee of the university, having worked here for 25 years. Like Silva, Barcelos is from Portugal and completed his secondary education in the U.S. He joined the program to be more confident in his reading and writing skills.
For Erin Araj, a bioengineering graduate student, recognizing and validating the accomplishments of the Santa Clara employees in the program is paramount.
Araj met Silva, Barcelos and other members of the Bon Appetit and Able Building Maintenance staff at a worker’s appreciation barbecue last school year that was hosted by SCCAP’s labor action committee. She remembers Silva carrying last year’s Read Santa Clara book in his back pocket, excited to show her and others his story that earned third place in the annual writing contest.
“I just saw how passionate he was and I was kind of sad that we have these individuals that work on campus and are doing these really cool things, and trying so hard to learn English and learn reading and writing and they’re not recognized as much,” she said.
Read Santa Clara was started over 20 years ago in 1995 with the help of a grant from the California State Library following a national assessment, which found that 44 million Americans lacked basic literacy skills. According to Bhaskaran, one in six American adults today still lack basic literacy skills.
“This is a huge issue, so Read Santa Clara is part of that solution,” she said.
The program provides individualized instruction where learners and their tutors can create their own curriculum. After an initial assessment, tutoring sessions include the use of phonics, multisensory materials, scrabble tiles, flashcards and books for adults at various reading levels.
Bhaskaran said that learners are also encouraged to bring in their mail, bus maps, manuals or forms they need to fill out. A few years ago, Silva said he worked with his tutor to better understand his contract with Bon Appetit and rights as a worker.
On Sat. March 12 at 2 p.m., Read Santa Clara will hold its annual event celebrating the progress of the 47 learners. They will release a book written by the students themselves. This year’s event will be at the Mission City Center for Performing Arts at Wilcox High School and will include readings from the learners as well as a guest speaker, author and former Santa Clara University professor Francisco Jiménez.
Bhaskaran said that writing and reading their work in front of an audience is a huge accomplishment for the learners.
Barcelos, who will have two works published this year said that the program has positively influenced him in multiple ways over the years.
“I see more clearly, I think my imagination seems stronger,” he said. “If I see something, I can think about it and then write it down. It’s a gift, writing’s a gift.
Silva said that he hopes students will attend the event or consider becoming tutors for the program, stressing the importance of community when it comes to learning.
“Clothes go out of style, but learning never goes out of style,” he said.
Contact Jenni Sigl at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.