LOS ANGELES — If it seems unusual for a math teacher to be enthusiastic about reading, then you probably haven’t met Ms. Zatchell Fortin.
She is a first-grade teacher at St. Aloysius School in South Los Angeles. This is the first time she has taught math concepts through storytelling without traditional textbooks.
“They’re very intimidating and very long and it gives the students this major anxiety, but if I use children’s books, storybooks, it helps them connect,” Fortin said, which simultaneously improves the math and literacy skills.
She is able to do this thanks to Gordon Philanthropies. The private foundation says it has donated more than 50,000 books over the past year to some of the most underserved schools in Los Angeles as part of its “Communities That Read Together, Grow Together” program.
When director Nicole Johnson first heard about it, she couldn’t believe her ears.
“I actually thought it was a joke,” Johnson laughed.
She says more than 92% of students in her school live below the poverty line. The program provides students with up to eight new books of their choice every four months, delivered directly to their homes.
“They’re second language learners and so they’re in homes where a lot of our families don’t speak English, and that allows families and parents to feel connected to their students’ education,” Johnson said.
“As soon as she finishes a book, I read it myself, then I ask her questions, like ‘Who was that character’ or ‘What happened? reading with her daughter Camila Alndavera, 9, who loves mysteries.
“You like to learn things like for your vocabulary, but at the same time you think, ‘Maybe this could happen or what if he gets trapped there? “, Alndavera said. “A lot of kids are always on their devices while I, on the other hand, can stop and read a book that I like.”
Guevara says that when she was growing up, her parents didn’t have the money to buy her books, so she was limited to what was in the library. Thanks to the program, it’s now a different story for her daughter, who Guevara says is more expressive and uses more detail in her sentences.
As for Fortin, she says before the free reading program, she would have bought a book and passed it around the class. Now she can try out different lessons, making them more engaging and fun, whatever the subject.
“If we can expose them to all the literature that’s out there, hopefully they’ll grow and their love for reading will grow more and more,” she said.
Because in the end, that’s what really matters.