July 28, 2006

Fostering reading in young minds

By Martha Sarabia

When she was invited to become a founder faculty of Cal State San Marcos in 1989, Dr. Isabel Schon already had plans for her first year in the new university.

The Mexico City native wanted to create a center with books in Spanish to help young children and teenagers enjoy reading.

“What we need here in the U.S. is a center of books in Spanish,” said Schon back then.

Her main goal was to promote literacy in both English and Spanish while informing younger generations and educational decision-makers about the Latino culture.

For Schon, now director of the Barahona Center for the Study of Books in Spanish for Children and Adolescents, establishing the center was not an easy task. However, her expertise and outstanding reputation on the field helped her to convince university officials, the public and mainly the publishers to donate the books to start what is now the largest collection of books in Spanish in the world.

Dr. Isabel Schon stands proud in the middle of the large collection of the Barahona center, one of her biggest career accomplishments. Photo by Martha Sarabia.

“We continue to be the only center in the world that has Spanish books from all over Latin America well as the ones translated in the U. S.,” said Schon.

The center’s collection has about 80,000 books of which 60,000 are in Spanish or are bilingual and about 20,000 are in English about Latinos. The books range from fiction, science, history to easy reading for infants and even special collections.

“Everything here in the center pertains to how to connect children with reading,” said Schon while pointing out the center’s large collection.

The collection, however, is not selective.

“We have everything, from the very good to the not so good,” she added.

However, she also publishes a book with a list of the books she recommends for reading for children and adolescents and writes a column for about 18 professional magazines including Multicultural review, Language Review, LA Times y PBS para la familia.

The purpose of the center also goes beyond the university level and into the public schools of the area.

“The idea behind our program is that all students should have the opportunity to read for pleasure,” said Allyson Randall, director of the center’s Reading Partners Program

The Reading Partners Program teaches Cal State San Marcos students and local parent volunteers how to read to children from kindergarten to high school and how to motivate them to improve their reading skills.

“Children need positive experiences with books, access to quality literature…Children in higher-incomes read 2 to 3 levels higher than low income children,” said Randall about the importance of reading.

The classroom that participated in the reading program this past semester was a first-grade class at Farr Elementary School in Escondido.

“We send the projects to Dr. Schon for her to see the progress of the kids. She advises us on the books that students need,” said Rosario Salazar, parent volunteer coordinator of the local school.

“We are trying to instill that reading is very important since an early age,” she added.

Reading volunteers like Escondido resident Reeba Gibson are also excited about the opportunity to help the young students.

“It’s really good to see the kids excited about reading,” said Gibson, who plans to get involved again next year and hopes that more people like her do it as well.

The center is also used worldwide by internet and library visitors.

One of those visitors to the center is Lucinda Bernardino, a Carlsbad resident.

“The center is very inclusive,” she said. “It’s excellent for American and bilingual families to learn about Latino literature and culture.”

Online users can also take advantage of the center by visiting its website that helps users find recommended books by author’s name, topic, and/or by the age of the reader.

Residents of the area who are not Cal State San Marcos students can also check out the books by becoming friends of the center with an annual fee of $15.

Although the annual lack of funds is something that the center has to overcome often, Schon remains optimistic every year hoping to achieve her ultimate goal.

“A young person who enjoys reading is a good student, and if he or she is a good student, he or she will graduate from college,” said Schon.

The Barahona Center is located in the fifth floor of the Kellogg Library at Cal State San Marcos. For more information, visit www.csusm.edu/csb or call (760) 750-4070.

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