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​Santa Barbara Public Library

Santa Barbara Public Library, an Innovation Grant recipient, was rewarded by the National Literacy Directory for its creative solution to a common literacy challenge: engaging at-risk youth and fostering a love of reading through peer mentors.

Growing Reading Ambassadors

Santa Barbara Public Library's Reading Ambassadors/Summer Storytellers program teaches second- through fourth-grade children to read aloud to younger children at school, home, and in the community. It's a part of the library's Read Together/Juntos Leemos initiative, a joint project of the Library's Youth Services and Adult Literacy programs.

The story of how the idea for Read Together/Juntos Leemos began is a good one: Two young mothers walked into the central library location and requested adult literacy tutors. They had six young children with them, ages six months to eight years. Although one mother struggled with reading a low-level text, her eight-year-old came up next to her and proudly read it aloud. The mother beamed at her child, but was embarrassed for herself.

It was then the staff realized that involving all family members as literacy builders at home, especially in families where parents have low literacy skills, was one route to meet the challenge of preparing every child for kindergarten.

With help from scholars and a curriculum specialist in the school district, the library developed a palette of programs designed to serve the whole family. In addition, they trained at-risk youth in after-school programs and summer camps to become storytellers and encouraged them to read with younger children in their lives.

"The Santa Barbara Public Library recognized and activated an opportunity to engage at-risk kids and help younger children build critical literacy skills at the same time, with great results," said Tracy Noles, director of the National Literacy Directory. "It's a powerful example of one library's ingenuity and its dedication to developing solutions for literacy challenges—an effort we know is playing out in so many libraries across the U.S."

Participant surveys show that 61 percent of children with a younger child at home read to them more frequently after a month in this program, and over 100 percent of parents surveyed noted that their younger children were more interested in books after the program. Over 200 "Reading Ambassadors" have been trained since fall of 2013. The library estimates that the program has already benefited more than 1,000 students and their younger family members.

The National Literacy Directory is a community of innovative leaders, learners, educators, and student-champions that is managed by the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL). To find out more about future grant opportunities from the Directory, subscribe to NCFL's monthly e-newsletter. To learn about joining the Directory or creating an account, click here.