'Reading is Power' at literacy center
HOLYOKE– For a reading fan such as Juan Vidal Martinez, it was a place to stoke the imagination. The Padded-chair sanctuary was isolated but accessible beneath a skylight and near a library. The family literacy center opened at Kelly School at 216 West St.on Feb. 1, andMartinez, father of three Kelly students, was among dozens of delighted parents. “I think it’s amazing,”Martinez said. The center is the school system’s first. Officials plan to reserve space in all 11 public schools for an area where parents who deliver their children in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon can sit and read to them. The Literacy centers are part of a system-wide drive to improve literacy known as “reading is Power: Holyoke Can Do It.” “This is where we hope the families will come and just read. The whole idea of just sitting down with your children and reading is such a big thing, said Mary L. Curro, director of early childhood education for the Holyoke School Department. A parent reading 20 minutes a day to a child is vital to development, she said. Curro and Kelly Principal Jacqueline Glasheen were the hosts at an evening open house that showed the center, which is in the middle of a circular ramp in the school’s lowest level adjacent to the school library. Chairs, couches, tables and shelves were donated by Conklin Office Furniture. “It was wonderful to see so many families and children there,” said Mayor Alex B. Morse, who is chairman of the school committee. The literacy center will be open for parents during school hours and on the first and third Wednesday of the month, from 6 to 8 p.m., Glasheen said. “We want to be part o the community. We want people to know that we’re part of the neighborhood. We want people to read,” Glasheen said. Kelly is a kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school in the Flats Neighborhood with 540 students and 75 teachers and other staff, she said. Poor reading abilities among students, officials have said is the school system’s “single most critical issue.” The School Committee has commissioned a literacy effort with a goal of having 85 percent of students be proficient readers by the end of third grade in 2014. Currently, only 25 percent of Holyoke third-graders scored proficient in reading on the 2010 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test. The school system’s nearly 6,000 students are mostly Hispanic, and English is not the first language for more than half of the, officials have said. Martinez said he encourages his children not only to read, but to imagine the characters and settings as they take in the words and sentences, to act out the scenes in their mind. He and his wife, Carmen Martinez, have children Micaela, 12, Damien, 11 and Gabriela, 9 all attending Kelly, he said. “They read on their own. Sometimes they read with us, and sometimes we help them to pronounce the words. Sometimes I ask them, “Do you know what you’re reading?”Martinezsaid. The point, he said, is whether reading about a “hillbilly” or a character from “Brave heart,” don’t just scan the lines with the goal of finishing, but use the imagination. Maria M. Bermudez said she doubted she would make use of the Kelly literacy center, but she hoped it would encourage her 11-year-old, Raymond Mercado, a fifth-grader, to read more. “We don’t read that much at home, but I think here, some place nice, he’ll sit down and read,” Bermudez said. Metcalf School at 2019 Northampton St.could be next to get a family literacy center, followed by Sullivan School at 400 Jarvis Ave., Curro said. Devin M. Sheehan, School Committee vice chairman, said he was impressed with the work at Kelly by Glasheen and her staff. The schools need more help from the community like the Conklin furniture donations, he said. “We need this at each and every single one of our schools,” Sheehan said.