Dreysser Cano reads a letter he wrote to his daughter aloud to participants in a literacy workshop. (Photo by Scholastic.)
Dreysser Cano reads a letter he wrote to his daughter aloud to participants in a literacy workshop. (Photo by Scholastic)

For many parents who graduated from Scholastic’s “Rise and Read” program this month, the experience was bittersweet: They had learned new ways to support their children’s education, but they had also been reminded about how their own education had fallen short.

“I want to prepare my children so they don’t have to go through what we went through,” said Rafael Encarnacion, who participated in the program with his wife Nikiesha. “So they have a basic foundation. We want to show them the basics of doing well in school, keeping up and staying focused.”

Scholastic’s six-session Rise and Read workshop series aims to give parents tools to practice reading with their children — by handing out new books, but also by talking about everyday ways to introduce reading, whether through sounding out signs or reading along to lyrics of a favorite song.

The program is intended both for Spanish-speaking parents and native English speakers, and workshops are conducted in both languages. During for the workshop series that took place at P.S. 179 in the Bronx, which two of the Encarnacions’ children attend, facilitators and parents spoke a mix of Spanish and English, and all comments were translated so everyone could understand.

Encarnacion said that after he brought home new books from the workshop, his daughter began greeting him at the door with a book in hand — and a request for him to read aloud — when he got home from his job as a hospital orderly.

According to Windy Lopez, Scholastic’s director of community affairs, over 1.5 million parents have participated in Rise and Read workshops since the program began a decade ago. The workshop at P.S. 179 came out of a partnership among Scholastic, United Way, and East Side House, a non-profit organization based in the Bronx.

At the final session, parents said the program had given them tools for helping their children learn to read, as well as time to brainstorm new ideas for ways to support their children at school.

“I didn’t realize how many things you teach a child when you read,” said Patricia Gomez, whose two children attend P.S. 179. “I thought it was just a story.”

Cano's daughter with her letter.
Cano’s daughter with her letter.

Lopez said schools often leave that lesson out of their requests for parents to read at home. “There’s nothing wrong with saying, you need to read to your child for 20 minutes per day,” she said. “But it’s bigger than that.”

P.S. 179 shares a building with P352, a District 75 school, and several of the workshop participants’ children have special needs. Parents of non-verbal students said the workshop’s emphasis on finding creative ways to engage children with words was particularly useful to them.

“I have a son who barely speaks, but when we play music he tries to repeat the words of a song,” Rubi Garzon said.

Participants talked about the elusive line between encouraging students to read and pressuring them in a way that makes them less inclined to open a book.

One parent described her strategy: open a picture book and read silently to herself. “I start reading with expressions,” she said, and pretty soon her two children want to know what is provoking their mom’s reactions, and they join her to finish the book.

Dreysser Cano said that watching his daughter speak and learn to read in English, a language he doesn’t speak, is heartening and a little bit hard.

In a letter to his daughter, which parents were asked to bring to the final workshop, Cano wrote: “I want to tell you how proud I feel hearing you speak English, how fast you are learning.”

“I think sometimes it’s hard for me to tell you this,” he added, “But you also need to speak Spanish, because if you don’t I won’t be able to know more about you. How are we going to communicate? I know that I should learn just like you.”

Dreysser Cano's letter to his daughter. (Translation below)
Dreysser Cano’s letter to his daughter. (Translation below)

From: Your Dad

Dear Daughter,

On a day like today I want to tell you how proud I am when I listen to you speak English, how fast you are learning. I’m glad that you don’t look at this as something forced on you, but that you are learning through games and songs. It makes me very happy to see you sing and dance, and to know that you are happy going to school, unlike those first days that were a little hard for both of us.

Now, you are starting to write and I hope that soon you can learn how to read. I am anxious for you to learn to do this in Spanish as well.

Daughter, sometimes I think I am pushing too hard when I tell you, my love, that you should learn Spanish, because if you don’t, I won’t be able to know about you and we won’t be able to communicate anymore. I know that I should also learn, just like you.

You don’t know how far my thinking soars, at times I imagine you as a young woman full of dreams, capable of going after what she wants: obtaining an education and being able to use it, after so much hard work.