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Local Book Buddies combat illiteracy

While some know Pinedale because of the occasional drive-by-shooting, others are making a positive mark on the northeast Fresno community.

A group of students have joined a small, but growing, reading group in the heart of Pinedale. In their mission to serve the community, these volunteers will join Book Buddies, to battle illiteracy, beginning Jan. 21.

“Book Buddies is an outreach program to Pinedale Elementary, where high school students read to elementary students during their lunch,” Linda Amparano, Pinedale reading coordinator, said. “The last time Fresno Christian participated in Book Buddies was four years ago, and it resulted in a 17% increase in literacy among students.”

Currently only 27% of students at Pinedale Elementary are reading at grade level. In response to these statistics the state has delivered the elementary a PI grade, giving them three years to raise their scores to standard.

“The situation in Pinedale is quite serious, because the entire community depends on this school,” Amparano, said. “Due to its close proximity to Wal-Mart and Riverpark, Pinedale is viewed as a desirable location for expansion, but California laws prevent such action so long as the district has a school.”

Should Pinedale Elementary fail to raise its reading average, the school will be closed. Some people, however, do not consider the closing of the elementary to be a bad thing.

“I distinctly remember overcrowding as being the number one hindrance to learning at Pinedale Elementary,” Eric Neufeld, ’05, said. “It’s kind of hard to learn when you’re packed into a classroom like sardines and half of the students don’t speak English.”

Others can recall positive experiences in Pinedale, which they do not want to lose.

“My family loves to eat at El Toledo’s; it’s a Mexican restaurant in Pinedale,” Brandon Diaso, ’05, said. “Not only do they have the best Mexican food in the Valley, but all the people there are always happy. It’s not because they’re drunk either.”

Regardless of a person’s attitude concerning Pinedale, Amparano feels that everyone capable has a responsibility to help this community.

So far 37 students committed to read at the elementary once a week for 45 minutes at lunch; transportation will be provided. Students sacrifice their lunch period or eat while they are traveling to or from Pinedale.

These students will receive full community service in return for eight weeks of service. However, community service is not everyone’s motivation.

“”I could get my community service done listening to music for five hours if I wanted to,”” Brennan Gust, ’04, said. “”With Book Buddies I can help less privileged kids learn to read. It feels good knowing I am helping real people rather than some company that doesn’t really need the service.””

Some student leadership members are also participating in Book Buddies even though they do not need community service credit.

“Once I finished sports, I really felt God calling me to serve with the free time I gained,” Katherine Babcock, ’04, said. “After praying about it, I thought about Book Buddies and knew God was calling me to help.”

Applications to serve with Book Buddies will no longer be accepted after Jan. 14. The first meeting between campus students and their buddy will be on Jan. 21.

For those who missed the campus opportunity, another Fresno organization has organized Book Buddies. The Samaritan Women, as part of their Community AfterCare Program, also sponsor a Book Buddies program at their Children’s Enrichment Center.

According to their web site, The Samaritan Women believe Book Buddies matches moms and children with a coach for the purpose of reinforcing the mother-child bond through the discovery of the joys of reading together. Reading and social skills are also developed through this activity.

The Samaritan Women can be contacted by calling (559) 227-2190 or by visiting their web site at www.samaritanwomen.org/children.htm.

For more information concerning Book Buddies go to www.greatschools.net/modperl/browse_school/ca/760/ or contact Amparano at 289-1776 or e-mail her at [email protected].

For students or parents who want to improve their child’s reading ability, Reading Renaissance is offering a free booklet with information on their Accelerated Reader software. The Accelerated Reader program is designed to improve reading and to “”get students excited about reading.”” For a free booklet and information, call toll free, (866) 846-7323.

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