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Nonprofit Honored for Revolutionary Approach to Tutoring

New America Media, News Report, Inga Buchbinder Posted: Jul 04, 2009

Editor's Note: Founded in 1999 by Brazilian-born Luis Santana, Reading and Beyond started working with 30 children, tutoring them on literacy and reading comprehension. Over the past decade, the organization has expanded to helping over 700 students each day as well as families in 16 different centers throughout Fresno County.

FRESNO, Calif. A non-profit organization founded to tutor Fresno Countys underprivileged students celebrated its 10th anniversary with a special gift: a Leadership Award and $125,000 from the James Irvine Foundation.

Founded in 1999 by Brazilian-born Luis Santana, Reading and Beyond started working with 30 children, tutoring them on literacy and reading comprehension. Over the past decade, the organization has expanded to helping over 700 students each day as well as families in 16 different centers throughout Fresno County.

What made Reading and Beyond unique from other literacy programs is the inclusion of parents, schools and community in encouraging and enabling students to be the best.

Santana decided that if parents couldnt come to his classroom, he would take his classroom to them, a statement on the Irvine Foundations Web site read. He secured funding for a recreational vehicle that he outfitted with tables and chairs. Reading and Beyond parked the RV at supermarkets and apartment complexes, churches and schools wherever was most convenient for parents.

The Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards recognize California leaders who are advancing innovative and effective solutions to significant issues in the state.

Santana, who is also Reading and Beyonds executive director said that all he had in mind at the inception of organization was to help and impact lives.

One of the qualifications to be a leader is to care about others, look for the big picture and to assist others to be their best, Santana said.

Matilda Soria, a research and development director who develops programs for both the children and the parents, said Reading and Beyond has been effective in helping students because it looks at the whole child including the school, the family and the community.

Luis always says that education is the true revolution, Soria said.

Reading and Beyond works to blend the research that is done on the psychology of children as well as the need of the individual child and family. The parents become an integral part of the childs success rate.

Reading and Beyond has also expanded programs that aide parents who want to return to school.

We are walking the child along through the school years, said Maria Aldana, an early childhood assessor and parent educator who has been with Reading and Beyond for 6 years. It only takes one positive role model in a childs life to impact their outlook in life, and to motivate them to do something with their life.

Aldana said Reading and Beyond becomes a safety net for the students and to bridge them between primary and elementary school and college.

Once weve connected them and followed them through into college, we know those children in college will have a better experience, Aldana said.

Although the recession is affecting many other non-profits, Soria said that Santana has been frugal weighs the pros and cons of every opportunity that has come to them over the last 10 years. Soria noticed that many of the children were complaining of being hungry when they came into the after-school program. So the Economic Opportunities Commission of Fresno, another non-profit, joined with Reading and Beyond to offer free after school snacks for the children, thus cutting the cost of providing snacks. These economically prudent efforts and partnerships afforded them a safety net to pull from in lean times.

The Irvine Foundation recognition is helpful because the foundation is respected and well known throughout the country and it has provided Reading and Beyond with a stamp of approval that signifies quality, Soria said.

The award put Reading and Beyond on the map in a national capacity by giving their mission visibility, the things you cannot brag about yourself, Santana said.

The award money will go to Santanas vision for the future of Reading and Beyond which includes implementing his ideas on literacy and learning at a statewide level.

We are teaching unequal kids in equal ways, Santana said.

Rethinking how the state educates students is necessary, and the blame should not wholly be laid upon the shoulders of teachers, Santana said. Reading and Beyond considers the needs of each child individually, which can be implemented nationwide and its approach is modifiable as it goes on, he added.

Santana said he had concerns about the academic abilities of U.S. students when compared to other countries. U.S. students are behind language wise, as many other countries teach their students to be bilingual.

Our kids wouldnt be able to compete, he said. More money for education is nice, but not necessary, but it should be better managed, which would produce better results.

The Irvine Foundation doesnt just provide a monetary award, but also in providing support in sharing their effective practices and lessons learned with policy makers and others in their field. The Foundation has already begun talking to Santana about taking his ideas surrounding literacy in the community to the state level by the end of the year.

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