By Frances Moody | 0 comments
During the after-school superhero club, 10-year-old Gia Morillon splashed blue paint onto her cape made from a T-shirt.
Down the hall from Gia, high school sophomore Roy Bonilla sat at a table reading in English.
A half hour after Gia got creative and Bonilla read in a language that was not his native tongue, five Latina ladies played Scattergories in their weekly English class.
These three programs that took place on Feb. 24 are a typical Wednesday evening at the Teton Literacy Center.A place that aims to change lives through the power of literacy, the center welcomes many people each day.
Not long ago the organization’s employees discovered that such activities might be at risk. Their fears were realized late Thursday when Gov. Matt Mead signed a state budget bill that specified Wyoming’s nine family literacy centers will lose funding from the Wyoming Community College Commission.
While Teton Literacy Center Executive Director Laura Soltau has accepted the fact that the organization will no longer have one-third of its funding, she said the loss of money will not keep Bonilla, Gia and more than 600 other clients from benefiting from all the organization has to offer.
In light of the loss, Soltau is turning her energy to communication in preparation for fundraising. She wants people to know how the community benefits from the center.
“Our ultimate goal is to decrease and eliminate the achievement gap in this community,” Soltau said. “We have a large ELL population,” she said, referring to “English language learners,” “and the center helps children and families integrate into the community, which is very valuable.”
The executive director thinks the best way to show people how the center helps the community is by telling the stories of those who spend time there each week.
Bonilla’s experience is just one example of how the center is changing lives.
Bonilla is from El Salvador. When he lived in his home country he was often afraid of getting caught in the crossfire of gang violence, which took place in the streets of the city where he and his mother lived. He left his mother and El Salvador not too long ago by walking hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles. After weeks of journeying on foot and in vehicles, he made it to Jackson to live with his aunt.
While he’s been in Jackson, Bonilla has found a job and enrolled in school. Wanting to succeed in his new home, the 18-year-old recognized that learning English was going to help him in many ways, so he got involved in the center’s tutoring program.
Every Wednesday he meets with tutor Paul Hansen for one hour.
“My Spanish is worse than his English,” said Hansen, who has been tutoring at the center for seven years. “I’ll read in Spanish. He’ll read in English, and we’ll correct each other.”
The two read the book “The Nightingale” a few weeks ago. “In the palace gardens there lived a nightingale that had the most beautiful voice,” Bonilla read to Hansen, who helped the student pronounce the word “nightingale.” Hansen said Bonilla has graduated from reading content such as “See Spot Run” to comprehending full paragraphs, complicated sentences and big words.
During his seven years of tutoring Hansen has seen several people such as Bonilla succeed. He said one of his former pupils is about to graduate from the University of Wyoming.
Eleven-year-old Areli Roldon has benefited from the center’s tutoring program. In fact, Areli’s entire family is involved in the literacy center in different ways. Her mom takes an English class at the center every Wednesday.
“Sixty-eight percent of the parents enrolled in that program last year received a promotion at work or got a better job,” Soltau said. “They elevated themselves in terms of status.”
The parent education program was funded in part by the $200,000 the center will no longer get. The kindergarten readiness program also was.
Areli’s brother, Zaid Roldon, participated in the kindergarten readiness program. The 6-year-old’s teacher said he was beyond being prepared for elementary school this year.
Kindergarten readiness takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. four days a week. The program has two classes. Four-year-old Alexis Zarate is in the course that meets Tuesday and Thursday.
When Alexis is at the center he reads, writes, counts and identifies colors.
“Reading makes me more smart,” Alexis said Thursday after his class returned from a field trip to the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum. He was excited to tell his dad about his day, which included making secondary colors by mixing primary-colored gel paint.
“It’s a very nice program,” said Alexis’ dad, Leofredi Zarate. “I was very surprised when he started to read in English, and really enjoyed it.”
Soltau said the kindergarten readiness class is a good example of how the center helps the community.
“We bring up the instruction level for an entire elementary school class by preparing these kids for kindergarten,” she said.
The center is also helping the valley by providing free after-school care, which the community lacks. The superhero club Gia is part of also performs community service.
Kids in the club have completed service projects with Vertical Harvest and Friends of Pathways. They also have learned from Teton County Search and Rescue, which had representatives visit the center to talk about what it’s like to save a life.
“I like that people come here to show us what it’s like to be a real-life hero,” said fourth-grader Justin Garcia, who is in the superhero club.
Justin, Gia and other club members celebrated their heroic deeds on Feb. 24 by making capes and creating their own superhero characters.
Nine-year-old Jesus Hernandez glued a pocket onto his cape to give style to his alter ego, Combat Man.
Jesus said he hopes the center, which was founded in 1992, will be around when he grows up to be like the heroes he met at the center. He said some of those heroes are the people who work there.
The Teton Literacy Center’s $650,000 budget is funded through individual donations, a grant from 21st Century Community Learning and the Wyoming Community College Commission. Soltau said the organization will look to grants and donations from individuals to make up for the $200,000 it is going to lose annually from the commission.
Contact Frances Moody at 732-7079 or email@example.com.