Literacy in two languages is program's goal

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comDecember 26, 2013 

Three volunteers arrived this week, armed with tales of Christmas, self-esteem and the adventures of Curious George.

Their under-18 audience varied in age, but it didn’t matter. The children came with one goal in mind - acquiring skills that will help them the rest of their lives.

Lectura Para Niños, which translates to Reading for Children, is nearing its third year at the Los Banos branch of the Merced County Library. The bilingual program features books read in English and Spanish in hopes of immersing children in both.

“I bring them because I want them to learn more Spanish,” said Liz Quiroz, when asked through a translator why her daughters attend the program. “They can (grow up and) get a better job and help people who don’t speak English and Spanish.”

Lectura Para Niños was started by the César Chávez Committee in 2011 with the idea of emphasizing literacy in the Hispanic community, which is 65 percent of the city’s population.

“We’re trying to keep kids out of trouble and get them used to reading books,” said César Chávez Committee member Pascual Mendivil.

Maria Murillo, who helped start the program, said it is easier to get children in the practice of reading while they are young. She said being bilingual is also important.

“I think that it is better when you learn more than one language,” Murillo said. “I’m from Mexico. I encourage my kids all the time to speak Spanish. I tell them, ‘You are here, you learned English, but if you have your own language that’s OK,’ ” she said.

Gil Castillo said he likes to read stories to the children about what they could be when they grow up. Castillo, who is a student at the Los Banos Campus of Merced College, said many times education is not emphasized in the home.

“We encourage the kids to come up and read a small bit so they have confidence in their skills,” Castillo said. “I didn’t get that growing up because my parents were always working and I still see that in this generation. A lot of the resources children have to receive are outside the home.”

Castillo, a member of the Alpha Gamma Sigma honor society, said his group donates snacks for Lectura Para Niños.

“I felt that the college could provide the necessary support to the program. I chose honor society because of the commitment to serve our local community,” Castillo said.

Program volunteer Melissa Pacheco, 14, said she believes the program helps children aspire to succeed.

“Having kids doing this makes them want to learn more and have a better future,” she said.

Lectura Para Niños takes place on Saturdays at 10 a.m. at the library at Seventh Street and Pacheco Boulevard.

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