A conversation leads to 1,000 books for Confluence Academy-South City

It’s interesting how a casual conversation can lead to an unexpected opportunity.

That’s exactly what happened. A few weeks ago, at a workshop for educators who focus on English language learning, a conversation between colleagues turned into 1,000 books, magazines, games and literacy-focused materials for Confluence Academy-South City. The books – in English and Spanish – and other items were provided by a Missouri REaD Book Grant from the Missouri State Council and the St. Louis Suburban Council of the International Reading Association.

Even better, the book grant allowed Confluence Academy-South City to host a summer session of Leyendo con la familia, a parent outreach and literacy program.

On June 21, before a full day of summer school, 20 students and their parents met in the cafeteria to read and eat breakfast. Afterward, students chose books to take home to keep as their own.

Leyendo con la familia, or Reading with the Family, started in fall 2016. Once a month, students and parents who speak Spanish as their native language read together and enjoy breakfast before the school day from 7:30-8:00 a.m. Grades K-2 meet on Tuesday in the South City-Compton building; grades 3-8 meet on Thursday in the South City-Meramec building.

Leyendo is important for three reasons: it improves literacy in English and Spanish; if reading is a valued at home by parents, students are more likely to read at home; and it shows Hispanic families that their native language is valued.

“Many parents are more fluent reading in Spanish than in English. Many students do not read in their native language. We hope the books written in Spanish will promote family literacy in both Spanish and English,” said Dr. Laurie Milburn, director of special services for Confluence Charter Schools.

Approximately 40 percent of students enrolled at Confluence Academy-South City are English language learners.

Robert Greenhaw, English Speakers of Other Languages coordinator for Confluence Charter Schools, explained how teachers will use the books and other resources in the classroom.

“Our ESOL program really wants to encourage bi-literacy, meaning that we want our students to embrace the fact that they speak two languages and work to become fully literate in both languages,” said Greenhaw.

“The Spanish language books will be made available to any student who may want to read them. The books might be especially useful with newcomer students who speak little to no English. The Spanish games and books might be comforting to a newcomer student, and might also be a way to show us that they do indeed have literacy skills in their native language,” he continued.

In its first year, Leyendo has done well, particularly among the younger students.

“Many of the younger students have their parents walk them to school. That makes it easy for those parents to stay and to participate in the Leyendo con la familia events,” said Greenhaw. “And, the Spanish and bilingual books that we currently have are geared more toward younger readers.”

The turnout for the middle grades is steady, but averages fewer students. Greenhaw applied for an internal grant from Confluence to purchase bilingual book titles that are more appropriate for middle school readers to encourage more participation among older students as the program continues.