Every other Friday in a spare room at the Pacoima Library, a team of California State University, Northridge student volunteers work a little magic and create a lot of fun as they lay the foundation for a love of reading among some early learners.
The students are all part of “Hooray Library!” an innovative new project by the university’s Jumpstart Program designed to promote early literacy preparedness in young children from underserved communities. Though the project targets preschool-aged children and their parents, older siblings also are encouraged to take part as the whole family discovers new ways to make learning, and in particular reading, fun.
“We all know that learning is a developmental process for children,” said Danielle Watson, coordinator of Cal State Northridge’s Jumpstart Program. “During this time, preschool-age, while they are learning the fundamentals of reading, it’s important that the children practice their knowledge and skills. What better place to do that than in a literacy rich environment such as a library. And at the same time, we’re supporting a nurturing relationship within the family.”
CSUN’s Jumpstart program, which is housed in Cal State Northridge’s Department of Child and Adolescent Development, traditionally operates in dozens of preschools throughout the San Fernando Valley. But some of the students were interested in taking the program beyond the classroom and into the community, where they felt they could reach more families.
“We thought libraries seemed a natural fit, so we called several in the Valley looking for that had little or no programs for young people,” said child and adolescent development student Rhea Triñanes, 23, of Reseda. Triñanes spearheaded the effort with political science major Deisy Barajas.
“Their call came at just the right time,” said Jose Galvan, the young adult librarian at the Pacoima Library. Pacoima Library lost its children’s librarian a year ago and only recently hired a replacement.
“Without a children’s librarian, we really didn’t have anybody who could step in and develop programs for young children,” Galvan said. “The Jumpstart students have really been a plus for us. They are here every other Friday with activities for the kids that involve the whole family, and their enthusiasm is contagious.”
He noted that about 75 percent of the people who use the Pacoima Library are under the age of 18. “Programs that involve young people and the library are always welcomed, and the one being conducted by Jumpstart students is a great one.”
Each Hooray Library! event focuses on a particular book. Northridge student volunteers read the book in English and Spanish and then invited their young listeners to take part in a craft activity inspired by the book. While some of the Jumpstart students were working with the children, others talked to parents, offering suggestions on how to incorporate “learning” into everyday activities.
“For example, when they go to the grocery store, they can ask their children about shapes of things, the colors of the vegetables or what letters they see and what other words begin with those letters,” Watson said.
“The whole point is to help people realize that education doesn’t just take place in the classroom and its doesn’t always have to come in the form of a teacher standing up in front of the class lecturing. It can take place anywhere, with anyone and it can be fun,” she said.
Triñanes and Watson said they have been “blown away” by the response from not only library’s community, but also by the Northridge student volunteers.
“It truly has been amazing,” Triñanes said. “Professors in our other class have been kind enough to let us announce each event and ask our classmates to volunteer, and they’ve turned out.”
Watson said she didn’t know who had more fun at the last event, which centered around the popular children’s alphabet book “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom,” the children or the Cal State Northridge students.
“Once we read the book, we danced and sang and asked the children to make their own ‘coconut tree’ out of graham crackers and other items,” she said. “Several of our volunteers were male, and a lot older kids ended up joining us because they were curious about all these adult males dancing around and singing ‘chicka chicka boom boom.’
“The younger kids were building their literacy skills, their parents were learning how to continue what we were doing at home, and the older kids were learning that teaching and learning can be fun and involve the whole family, and our students, male and female, were role models for all of them,” Watson said.
Triñanes is hoping that the HoorayLibrary! project at Pacoima Library will continue past the spring semester.
“I hope that we build strong enough support for the project so that student volunteers from Cal State Northridge continue hosting Hooray Library! programs for years and years to come,” she said.