PHONICS TALK: The Dorbooks Newsletter
Volume 68 ~ October 2014
by Dolores G. Hiskes

PHONICS-TALK: The Dorbooks Newsletter
by Dolores G. Hiskes - October 2014

In Volume 66 we began a three-part series on the history of
Dorbooks. Here now is Part 3, completing the series. *TODAY,*
relates how Phonics Pathways was first used in what became
a national tutoring program, and what happened then:




It all began in 1997, when Mary Shaw and Dolores Hiskes first
met at the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association in
Marin. Mary was concerned over the rising crime rate in East
Palo Alto and Dolores had recently finished Phonics Pathways.
They decided to combine forces and do something about the
rampant literacy problem.. *What good is the internet if you
can’t read?* Mary said. *The key is reading—all else flows
from that.* She applied for a grant to begin a reading tutoring
program. Here is an edited version of what Mary wrote:

*In the shadow of prosperous Palo Alto, California and Stanford
University lies East Palo Alto, a small city of primarily Blacks,
Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders, many of whom live on marginal
incomes. The 190 Census lists the city*s population as more
than 5 percent Tongan, Fijian, and Samoan. In 1997 this estimate
is 10 percent and growing. Because community resources are
few for these families, teenagers spend their time hanging out
on the streets where drug sales, drug use, delinquency and
violence are social norms.

*To get these young people off the streets *Mama Dee* Uhila,
a Samoan, opened her home in 1993 to any student from East
Palo Alto. Every day and on weekends Mamma Dee cooked
a meal and provided homework assistance for youngsters who
soon occupied every room in her small house. Many were gang
members and already in and out of Juvenile Hall for drug related
offenses and minor crimes. Dee would often see these kids on
the street until two or three o’clock in the morning. To ensure the
program’s long term survival, Dee founded Pacific Islander Out-
reach, Inc. (PIO), a non-profit organization dedicated to changing
the life circumstances of these disenfranchised young people.

*Most of these students are habitual truants who, even when
attending classes, are in-school dropouts. It became very apparent
in the home study houses that a frequent cause of these students*
poor academic performance and disruptive behavior was their lack
of basic reading skills. To address this critical need, PIO created a
Reading and Advocacy Program in the fall of 1996. The goal was
to prove a safe, welcoming environment in which to learn, to learn
to read, to study, and to do homework -- and to do this in a place
where the youngsters were willing to go. The program operated
out of the Friendly Place Restaurant two afternoons a week.

*The Reading and Advocacy Program depends on the recruitment,
training, and supervision of adult volunteers from surrounding
communities. They attend a two hour training session conducted by
Dolores G. Hiskes, whose text Phonics Pathways is the instructional
material of choice. Dolores coached the PIO in setting up the program
and contributed many of her ancillary educational materials. A $6,500
grant from the Charter Oak Foundation provided seed money. Staffing
consists of a part-time program coordinator, a part-time volunteer
coordinator, and a corps of fifteen community volunteers. Students are
tutored one-on-one in bi-weekly, half hour sessions, and along with the
dedication of volunteer tutors has resulted in significant improvement
of reading scores in the Ravenswood City School District.* And so a
tutoring program was born!

*The growth of the program has surprised everyone. Many students are
wait-listed. Tutors, parents, and students alike are very enthusiastic about
the program. One enthusiastic tutor gathered statistics on its success,
and found that while Sylvan Learning Center improved reading one grade
level per year, YES Reading improved reading two grade levels per year
- and for far less money. Another tutor donated $25,000 to ensure that
the lease would be paid at the restaurant where the tutoring takes place.
And the Stanford University Athletic Department recently donated thirty
surplus tables and eighty chairs so that the program would have appropriate
furniture for one-on-one tutoring.* And so the tutoring program grew!

Mary approached Jean Bacigalupi who was on the Board of YES (Youth
Empowering Systems) a national nonprofit group that works on youth and
education issues, requesting they sponsor the tutoring program. YES said
yes! Ms. Bacigalupi, who has volunteered her time and effort to many
causes in her life, recalls how she became involved as a tutor. *At one
point, I told Mary, I’m tired of sitting on boards - I want to work with kids!*

In 1999, in partnership with the school district and the Menlo Park Public
Library System Mary, Jean, and tutor Molly McCrory created a state-of-the-art
YES Reading Center at the Belle Haven Community Library, which serves
both the school and the community. In 2001 it was incorporated as a 501(c)(3)
under the name of YES Reading. And the YES Reading Center was born!

Starting with just three volunteers working in the school library, the organiza-
tion quickly grew to serve more than 100 children at Belle Haven and began
replicating to nearby Title I elementary schools. And the YES Reading Center
began to grow!

The location soon changed. Stanford University recently donated a double-
size portable classroom to the Belle Haven campus, which was renovated
by the University Rotary Club of Palo Alto. Molly McCrory put her formidable
decorating skills to good use making it warm, attractive, and inviting to
students and tutors alike. Molly enthusiasticaly commented, *One visit to
a tutoring session would be enough to convince others to sign up. They’d
be hooked. It’s a way to change the life of a child.* And the YES Reading
Center grew and grew!

Mary wrote, *Parents say it is heartwarming to see their children progress
from non-readers to eager readers who want to do their homework. Some
of the children have shared that they are doing better in school already.
The minister of a local church, whose daughter is in the program, suggested
we start a similar program for adults - *so that my people can get a job and
get off welfare.* A Samoan mother, observing the volunteer tutors, best
expressed the feelings of so many of the involved East Palo Alto families.
She quietly remarked, *God has blessed our children!*

(signed) Mary Wright Shaw, Board Member
YES Reading Project
Youth Empowering Systems
Menlo Park, CA*

In 2008 the name *YES Reading Center* was changed to *Reading
Partners.* New financial supporters, managers, recruiters, and
marketers were brought on board.

As a result, Reading Partners has exploded to serve more than
7,000 students in schools throughout California, Colorado,
Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and
Washington D.C. Very impressive indeed!

Different materials were added to the curriculum, which resulted in
1.5 to 2 months of growth in literacy for Reading Partners students.
While falling short of the results when Phonics Pathways was used
in YES Reading (YES Reading improved reading comprehension
two grade levels per year) this growth is nonetheless exciting.
And to think it all began with just one little book!

What a wonderful world this is, and what a wonderful life I’ve had.
Sure, we’ve had a few health issues over the years, some
more serious than others. But there’s miles to go before I sleep -
miles to go before I sleep.

*A crimson autumn leaf am I,
Golden, dancing, glowing bright.
Not yet my time to drop!*

Warm hugs to all of you, now and always!

My best, Dolores

Copyright 2014 Dolores G. Hiskes
May be reprinted in entirety with reference to author


Close this window

Return to homepage