First Book and ALAS: Better Serving Latino Youth

VR HeadshotVeronica Rivera serves as the Executive Director for the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS), which leads at the national level to ensure every school in America effectively serves the educational needs of all students, with an emphasis on Latino youth.

She recently joined us for a Q&A session to discuss ALAS’s new partnership with First Book, how schools can better serve Latino youth, specifically English language learners from low-income families, and why culturally relevant books play an important role.

Q:  Why is ALAS’s new partnership with First Book valuable to your members?

A:  The majority of the ALAS members are administrators and superintendents working in districts where a large percentage of children are from low-income families and are English language learners. Partnering with First Book provides our members with access to high-quality books and digital resources that increase student interest in literature and enhance academic achievement. Most importantly, First Book makes many of these resources available at very low prices or for free, which is critical in these times of severe budget cuts.

We are excited that First Book will exhibit at the 11th Annual ALAS Education Summit being held in Atlanta, Georgia, October 15-18, 2014. Our members will be able to see First Book’s work firsthand and the immense number of books First Book makes available. 

Q:  What challenges do ALAS members face in helping all children in their school districts become strong readers?

Estrella - Firstbook.org - Photos by Forest ParkerA:  One of the major causes of poor academic achievement and high dropout rates among English learners (ELs), struggling readers and special education students has been limited vocabulary and low reading levels. In many districts, we’ve seen incremental improvements, but many challenges remain due to high mobility rates, new comers with little academic skill in their native language, poverty and long term ELs.

With increased access to age appropriate reading materials and added instructional support, many of their students have shown dramatic increases in proficiency levels in reading and mathematics.

Q:  How will your members use books from First Book in their schools and school districts?

A:  First Book gives students and teachers options by offering books that are both interesting and relevant. This allows teachers to develop differentiated lesson plans and enables students to choose from books that are both on topic and at the appropriate reading levels. Being able to choose the best book for them helps keep students engaged in learning and motivated to tackle more complex texts.

Through First Book, ALAS members are also able to access books of cultural relevance, which is not always present in the day to day lesson plans. Students can connect with the lessons taught with assistance from the books that First Book provides.

Q:  Speaking of culturally relevant books, why do you feel it’s important to share Latino voices with young people in America?

A:  Reading is part of the process of empowering youth to be critical thinkers. Exposing students to Latino voices encourages diversity of thought, culture and language that promotes understanding and appreciation.

In this age of changing demographics and global awareness, it is essential that ALL children, as well as faculty and staff, become more culturally proficient and aware of different languages and lifestyles of the students in their schools and communities.

Check out the First Book Marketplace for culturally relevant books, including our Latino interest titles, for your students. For more information on the 11th Annual ALAS Education Summit go to www.alasedu.org.

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Posted in Expert Voices, Thought Leaders