Why Schools of Hope?
A major community initiative that launched during the 2010-11 school year, Schools of Hope helps children build the critical reading skills needed to succeed in school and life. United Way is leading a coordinated effort to close the reading achievement gap throughout California’s North Coast by partnering with the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, school districts, offices of education, principals, non-profit organizations, teachers, parents, literacy experts, businesses and individual donors.
My name is Maricela Solano Lopez, and I love to read.
I became involved with Schools of Hope through the Americorps VISTA program (Volunteers in Service to America) because I believe that literacy makes a great difference in an individual’s life. Although I am involved with different aspects of the program, one of the main things I work on is family engagement. I am a bilingual Spanish speaker and a significant number of the parents whose children are struggling with their reading are Spanish speakers. It is very important that they help their children read at home.
I see the value of the Schools of Hope program based on my personal experience. I struggled with being able to read at grade level from first grade until the sixth grade. I was very dedicated, yet learning how to read proficiently was very difficult for me; there were several factors that delayed the process.
I am the last of seven siblings and the child of immigrant parents. My parents emigrated from Mexico to provide my family with opportunities for a better life. They would tell me that if I had an education I would be able to have better opportunities and a better quality of life in this country. Like many immigrant parents, they didn’t really understand the education system and how it worked, yet they still knew that it was very important for me to go to school.
My parents worked in the fields and we had to move every six months to follow the seasonal work. From the first grade to the fifth grade, I did not start school with the rest of the children. I always came during the second part of the school year, and I always had to catch up with the material the other children had already learned. I would feel frustrated and it all seemed like a challenge, but giving up was never an option. My entire family worked in the fields from sun-out to sun-in, and watching them deal with the strenuous work made me realize I did not want to be forced into that type of work. I wanted to have opportunities to better myself. Unfortunately, there was no program in place that could provide me with the help I needed to develop my reading ability.
It was hard to love reading when I was struggling; it felt so difficult. Once I was able to read proficiently, however, I fell in love with libraries and books. Being able to read in English and Spanish has opened up my world and allowed me to have so many amazing experiences. I believe that Schools of Hope is right to focus on early intervention to ensure that students have the necessary skills in order to succeed as a student and later in life.
As I was growing up and struggling with my reading, I never imagined how much I could accomplish. I am the first member of my family to receive a college degree. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to graduate from UC Berkeley. I became involved with Schools of Hope as a literacy coordinator, focusing on the family engagement aspect, because I relate to the experiences some of these kids are going through. The family engagement aspect of the program focuses on reaching out to the parents of the students who are struggling with reading and providing them with the tools that will enable them to be actively involved in their children’s education.
When I have helped with the assessment component of Schools of Hope, to identify the students who qualify to be a part of the program, I see a reflection of my young self. Schools of Hope is helping to develop the reading skills of so many children who otherwise would have struggled longer, just like I did. Please become a tutor, make a difference in a child’s life with a commitment of 30 minutes once a week. To volunteer with Schools of Hope in Sonoma, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the program, go to unitedwaywinecountry.org/schoolsofhope.
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Maricela Solano Lopez is Sonoma coordinator for Schools of Hope.