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During the last four years, the Reading Ambassadors program has expanded and grown stronger at Dewey Elementary School. Manuel Aleman, District 65 bilingual parent liaison, and Erika Martínez-Picazo, parent and program coordinator, have worked alongside members of the school community to support the program which is focused on improving both English and Spanish reading and writing skills for students and their families.

Dewey is one of the District 65 elementary schools that offers the Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program. The Reading Ambassadors program started as a pilot program for kindergarten students four years ago to promote reading in Spanish among students and their families. The program has expanded to support kindergarten through third-grade students.

Families at Dewey volunteer to host the Reading Ambassadors program on several evenings throughout the school year. Students, families, teachers, and school administrators take turns reading aloud and enjoying snacks and conversation about the stories. Students participate in a complementary activity to practice or reinforce vocabulary or concepts related to the stories and also what they are learning during the school day.

For the past several years, first graders who participate in the program have written and illustrated their own stories. With help from parent volunteers, the stories and drawings have been compiled into a book that is published, and students are given a copy of the book. This year, the project is being expanded to include third- and fifth-graders, who will make an anthology of their selected writing projects throughout the year, and each student will be responsible for a chapter of a book. Parents and the school help to offset publishing costs so that all students, regardless of financial resources, receive a copy.

“The Reading Ambassadors program has done a wonderful job of building a sense of community between the school and the families that participate,” said Mr. Aleman. “It allows families to get to know each other better and have a chance to connect with their students’ teachers and school administrators. It also provides a first-hand opportunity to see some of the reading strategies used in the classroom to help families better support learning at home.”

The District 65 Bilingual Services Department is hopes to expand the program to other District 65 schools.