Traveling Stories Uses Farmers Markets To Get Kids Reading
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. A shopping trip to a farmers market is a regular part of the week for many San Diegans. They can be a family excursion to buy produce, flowers, or maybe a sweet snack, and also a chance for some kids to strengthen reading skills. That opportunity is being offered at couple of farmers markets in City Heights, and El Cajon at the Traveling Stories tent. It is a unique way to help children learn, and it has its own unique back story. Here to tell us more is the founder of Traveling Stories, Emily Moberley. Welcome to the show. EMILY MOBERLY: Thank you for having me. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I would like to welcome Jose Cruz, with the San Diego Council on Literacy. Welcome to the program. JOSE CRUZ: Thank you, good to see you. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us about the Traveling Stories tents. The kids bring their own books to read? EMILY MOBERLY: No, actually we have a lot of different books with different reading levels. Even in different languages. All the kids do is show up, and we have everything else they need. They can go through the boxes and pick out whatever they are interested in, and read it to a volunteer. Then they earn book bucks. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us what the tents are like. Where did the kids day, and what do the tents look like? EMILY MOBERLY: They are normal tents. Like any other vendor at a farmers market. The four you will see a couple of carpets, cushions, and books scattered all over the carpet. We have chairs and prizes laid out in the back, so kids really come in and get comfortable and pull up a seat. Sometimes they lay on the ground on the carpet, and get comfortable. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How do volunteers guide the kids through the books? The volunteers don't necessarily read the books to the children do they? EMILY MOBERLY: Not at all, we actually encourage the children to read to us even if they are little or have been reading forever, we see a lot of kids who don't get to practice reading out loud very often, and they really enjoy reading to our volunteers especially since they are so patient. Volunteers listened as they read and ask questions along the way about the story or how the story applies to the child's life. It brings up really fun conversations. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Where did the volunteers come from? EMILY MOBERLY: All over. We have some ads on Volunteer Match, we get volunteers through word-of-mouth, and we also have some teachers, a pilot, a heart surgeon, some Girl Scout troops, we have everything. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do parents take part in this? EMILY MOBERLY: Yes, and we're seeing more parents, a lot of parents will stick around especially when we do not have a lot of volunteers. They will read with their kids or with other kids, and we encourage more of that because we would encourage more reading between parents and kids. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, is this whole experience of going to the traveling story stand, sitting down and opening up a book, is that all free? EMILY MOBERLY: Yeah, in fact we reward kids. For every book that they read, we give a kid a book buck, which is more or less a monopoly dollar. They can save those up and by prizes, anything from food snacks to skateboards, and tickets to the zoo. We're encouraging kids to read but also develop money-management skills. We have kind of developed a currency that actually has value. Kids are reading tons of books, and if they read a difficult book like a chapter book, they can negotiate for more bucks. We have little Junior entrepreneurs in business. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: JosÈ Cruz, in the program, as we're hearing, kids are provided an opportunity to enjoy reading outside of school. That brings a very different element to learning, doesn't it? JOS… CRUZ: It does, sometimes you'll even see reading comprehension suffer because children do not like the material that they are receiving. We have heard from teachers that this child is not reading very well, what can you tell us about what is taking place? And we will give material that is at the same level of that the children are reading and find out they are able to handle the text, it is just a matter of interest. So the opportunity to read outside of school and pick your own book and respond to your own interests and all of those things are important. Reading has to be fun and personal even for children. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And the comprehension side of it, volunteers and asking children along the way with certain things mean to their lives, taking the words on the page and making them real. JOSE CRUZ: The definition of reading is getting meeting from print. It is not calling out words, you can give me a book in any language and I can read it to you, but it would not understand it. In which case I would not be reading, I would just be decoding. There is a check being done through the volunteers of the children asking them to tell what it is they are reading is a powerful thing. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us a bit about the level of literacy among school kids. A lot of kids struggling with reading? JOS… CRUZ: The norm is that children are not reading at a level considered proficient. So you have a high percentage of children being at a basic or below basic level somewhere below 30%, about 50% of children are not reading at a level considered proficient. We feel like we are winning or losing a battle in the home, that is where takes place. Language development, exposure to books, being read to and engaged in conversation with individuals and exchanging ideas verbally, that is the foundation for reading and school readiness. The work that Traveling Stories is doing is filling in those gaps, so that children are having that experience with print, and having that experience with language. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Does that difficulty with proficiency in reading go from grade school to high school? JOSE CRUZ: It does. What typically happens is you are being taught to read and early grade years, kindergarten and fourth grade. After that you will not see a lot of skills instruction taking place. Unfortunately, by that point, given how the system works, a lot of children never catch up and we see them in adult literacy programs. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Emily, you developed the idea for Traveling Stories out of your experiences teaching kids in Honduras. The kids you are teaching really did not have any books, did they? EMILY MOBERLY: That's right, I was shocked. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How did you cope with that? EMILY MOBERLY: That is a great question, I actually remember, it was a very distinct day in my classroom making my students write essays, sort of punishing them. I was sitting at my desk reading To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the few books that I brought with me. I have read it three or four times, and I was reading it again. One of my students finished her essay and said why are you reading this? It is so boring, why would you read when you can do anything? I started telling her the story of to kill a Mockingbird, and she was mesmerized. I noticed the entire class was listening, and that never happened. They were teenagers, so they never listen to me. That led to a discussion, and they told me they had never read for fun, they did not have a favorite book, they could not tell me about their favorite book, I researched and found there was really not access to books in that city. It was the third-largest city in Honduras. There was a small bookstore and a small library, but it was hard for me to live in in a community where I did not have access to books, and I could see how it impacted my students. Imagination, critical thinking skills, and their ability to just dream bigger than what they could experience in their city. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If I understand right, when you came back to the US, you started a nonprofit, you sent books to not only Honduras, but to a number of cities around the world where access to reading material was very limited. How many small libraries did you establish? EMILY MOBERLY: So far we have established seven, one in El Salvador, one in Nicaragua, one in South Sudan, and four in the Philippines. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How did that idea boomerang back to San Diego? EMILY MOBERLY: I was doing a lot of fundraising and collecting a lot of books for our international libraries. I was also volunteering with Rolling Readers, and through all of that experience I got to learn more about the needs here in my community. Kids have access to books, but they don't like reading, they can't read or are not proficient. I was at the farmers market, and the idea came up, there are so many kids here just hanging out. What if we made this fun, what if we go to a place where kids are already going, and provided access and provided people who were enthusiastic about reading, like cheerleaders. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How did you make it fun? If kids say they don't want to read books when they are at home, how do you make this fun? EMILY MOBERLY: At the beginning, it was just creating a relaxed environment with volunteers who are so inviting and enthusiastic about reading. That is a huge part, and now with the book bucks enterprises, we literally have children at the farmers market before we get there waiting for us, saying can I read, can I read, can I read, can I read? We are motivating them with prizes now, but we notice that the more they read, the more that they enjoy it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Does San Diego have a special challenge with advancing English literary skills? There are so many people who come from other countries here. JOSE CRUZ: Yes, in California in San Diego county you're looking in San Diego at 37% of individuals aged five and older who speak a language other than English in the home. It is a larger percentage than most of the country. California is closer to 42%, again, very high. You have parts of San Diego county, National City were somewhere near 65% of individuals aged five and older speak a language other than English. It has an impact, because it is also tied into social economics. It does have an impact on which children are being read to on a daily basis or even at all. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If mom and dad don't speak English very well, it is hard for them to read to kids and transfer the joy and love of reading English, when it is still a struggle for them. EMILY MOBERLY: It is, and it's a lack of access even to books in their first language. Even if they wanted to share a love for reading in their first language, that is difficult as well. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: JosÈ, what kind of instruction does the Council on Literacy offer? JOSE CRUZ: The Council on Literacy represents a network of twenty-seven youth, adults, and family literacy programs. We are more the coordinating agency, we're not a direct service provider. Through the council on literacy we are able to access information on literacy services, all over San Diego county. Volunteer opportunities, where to donate books to children, where to contribute on a countywide scale, knowing more of who is out there doing the work that Traveling Stories is doing for young people all the way up to adults getting help with reading. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It sounds like you are positive on what Traveling Stories is doing. JOSE CRUZ: We love what they are doing, it is part of the answer, right there in the community. I was speaking to Emily earlier, you are right there in the community, and is a mode of the functionality. People are going about business, everywhere else will have a conversation on transportation and childcare issues. They are right there in the heart of the community where things are taking place. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Emily, tell us a little bit more about the book bucks. You give kids a chance to actually spend the special money that they earn. How do kids spend the money? EMILY MOBERLY: It is amazing to watch every week, I will tell you one or two quick stories and whatever you want to visit you are always welcome. A few weeks ago I was talking to a little boy who comes almost every week. He is from Sudan, and he is seven years old. He has a wallet made out of paper, full of book bucks. We're talking 50 to 60 book bucks. We say hey, what are you saving up to buy? In my getting cool enough prizes, what is the problem? Then he stares down at his shoes, and I notice there is tape covering a hole. So I pressed him a little harder, so I say hey, I am old, what kind of prizes should I get? What do kids like? And he says some new shoes would be really awesome. It broke my heart, because I was thinking when I was seven, I don't think I would ask for shoes. In all honesty, I could have been a generous person and bought shoes for him right then, but I think the beauty of the system, I will get these shoes available, he will earn the money by reading, and buy the shoes for himself. And he is walking around the school look at me, I am independent, I got my own shoes, they are cool shoes, and I did this by reading. That is one cool story. Another kid brought a rainbow loom kit. If you have kids, you know what those are. She went home and made ten bracelets, and she came back next week and actually sold each of the bracelets for one dollar each and made real dollars. She turned her book bucks into real profit. Things like that are happening every week. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And they are learning how to read. EMILY MOBERLY: And they are getting better and better, they are reading harder, bigger books, and we also offer an extra book buck if they do a book review. We are seeing that their writing skills are improving, and their ability to communicate and share what they are doing is getting better. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The Traveling Stories tents are not at all farmers markets. Where can people find them? EMILY MOBERLY: You can find us at the City Heights farmers market on Saturday between 9 AM and 12:30 AM. You can also find us at the El Cajon farmers market Thursday between 4 PM and 7 PM. We actually do a monthly storytime at Waypoint Public, the restaurant in Northpark. It is the first Tuesday of every month from 4 PM to 6 PM as well. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are you thinking or trying to expand to get into more farmers markets? EMILY MOBERLY: Yes, we would love to get into more farmers markets, we just need more volunteers, a little more funding, partners who can help us come up with more prizes. That is our dream, we would like to have at least three more in the next year. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: JosÈ, does Traveling Stories enough books? Do they get books through donations that come to the literacy council? JOSE CRUZ: I don't know, have we given you any books yet? EMILY MOBERLY: I don't think so. JOSE CRUZ: Programs can ask us for help, but in turn we asked the community for support. We get books and distribute them through literacy programs. As we always tell people, every book is going to fund a home. If you look at homes where children are read to, you're not seeing five books, you are seeing a lot of books. Are there ever enough books? No. We can always use those. I know that Traveling Stories can always use those books. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Can you use volunteers? EMILY MOBERLY: We can definitely use more volunteers. If anyone is interested in signing up, you can go to Traveling Stories that are work. It is easy to get on our volunteer list. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both so much for speaking with us today, I really appreciate it.
A shopping trip to a farmers market is a regular part of the week for many San Diegans. It can be a family excursion to buy produce and flowers or maybe a sweet snack.
But thanks to a Santee-based nonprofit, a visit to a farmers market also can be a chance for kids to strengthen their reading skills.
That opportunity is being offered at farmers markets in City Heights and El Cajon at the Traveling Stories tent. At the markets, a special area is set aside where volunteers work with children to encourage them to read aloud. For each book the children read, they're rewarded with "book bucks" that they can use to buy fruit snacks, pencils, erasers, backpacks and board games.
It's a way to help children learn, and it has its own backstory.
For more information about the nonprofit, or to donate books or volunteer, go to TravelingStories.org.