Para los niños: Reading all summer long!

Lucía González is the associate director for Programming, Literacy, & Youth Services in Broward County, Florida. In charge of program services for 37 branch libraries that serve more approximately two million patrons, Gonzalez has more than 20 years' experience working in libraries.

González is also chair of the Children's and Young Adult Services committee for REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and other Spanish speakers.

González was nominated for "From the Heart" for piloting "Para Los Niños," ("For the children") a literacy program created in Texas for Spanish-speaking families. She recently spoke with Colorín Colorado about her summer reading programs for children and families.

Meet Lucía González

What kind of programs do you offer in the summer to help keep reading alive over the summer?

All South Florida Libraries have some sort of summer reading programs as part of the statewide Florida youth services. All summer long, we have family events at all our libraries that are specially designed for families and preschool children.

This year, for the first time, we partnered with the Miami Dolphins, who are providing grand prizes and other things for our summer programs.

How did you get started with "Para los Niños"?

We saw an ad for libraries interested in partnering with the Houston Children's Museum on the project. Immediately I responded that we were very interested. We piloted the program last year, and it was extremely successful.

Para los Niños is modeled after a program that was created by the Houston Children's Museum. It was so successful that we're expanding it to run the entire year. Our foundation is funding the program for twelve of our libraries. The locations were selected on the basis on populations served, and we identified libraries with the highest Spanish-speaking populations.

What is the make-up of your local Spanish-speaking populations?

I think our population is approximately 20 to 25 percent Spanish speaking. We also have a very large Haitian population, so Haitian Creole is probably the second most common non-English language here.

Most of our Spanish speakers are from South and Central America. We have a large number of Colombians, Venezuelans and Argentineans.

How does "Para los Niños" fit into your program, and what does it look like?

Para los Niños is part of the summer reading program. There's a weekly event that's basically a family learning program that serves parents whose first language is Spanish.

Divided into eight themes, each program is partly information for parents and partly activities to do with the children. For instance, the first theme is "Raise a Reader," and it's about helping preschool children get ready to read. It helps parents understand things like how children learn.

There's a hands-on craft component and a discussion, and then there's a story portion, which models reading in Spanish to help parents read to their children in their native language.

Why is reading in their native language important?

Reading in any language is important.

Many thought if they didn't read in English, it wouldn't help, but we encourage them to read in Spanish. That made them feel confident reading to their children.

A big part of the program is teaching parents how to read to children, what books to select, things like that. We discuss with parents school readiness and early literacy skills.

How do you involve parents who may not have the literacy skills to read picture books that can often have complex language?

We use wordless picture books, so parents learn the technique even if their reading skills are low.

How did you get the word out about "Para los Niños"?

We work in partnership with several community organizations that work with families such as the Hispanic Unity of Broward, which is a nonprofit organization that provides services like afterschool programs, adult education, and child care.

When we told them about this program, they were thrilled. They work with families already, and they know that parents need that kind of guidance.

What kind of partnership activities were you doing with these organizations before "Para los Niños"?

We exposed the kids to libraries and our services. We brought them to their local library, kids would have lunch at the library, and they discovered library services.

What kinds of measures did you use to gauge success?

Attendance to the programs, and we can track new cards and checkout. Also, each program is evaluated by attending parents with questions about what they learned from each program, how they apply what they learn. The evaluation is part of the workshop.

Tell me something you've learned by implementing the program.

One of the most important is things we discovered is that many parents were not aware of libraries or the services available. A lot of them expressed their satisfaction to find books that were in Spanish. They were not aware that those books were there.

Is that because they didn't have libraries in their home countries?

It depends. Our community is so mixed. Some of our Spanish speakers come from countries where they have public libraries, where others come from communities with no libraries at all.

But no matter what, when they get here, they don't expect to have books in their language in the library. It's a wonderful surprise for them. It's very welcoming, because parents no matter where they come from, they are concerned about maintaining their culture and language.

What's next for the program?

We are trying to translate materials into Haitian Creole so we can expand the program for our Haitian community.

What, if anything, surprised you about the program?

The Youth Dialogic Reading. In the old days, librarians were trained to just read straight through the book — to honor the author's words. Now, there's a different technique — the Youth Dialogic Reading.

We were trained for Para los Niñs to use dialogue and book descriptions — to read the text and engage in discussion as you go. That's a new strategy. This goes against everything we learned in library school!



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