On Wednesday, September 29, the Santa Barbara Education Foundation hosted the Love of Literacy Luncheon to highlight the need for support of students struggling with reading in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

The outdoor gathering in Elings Park’s Godric Grove raised over $65,000 in funds to train SB Unified teachers in methods to more effectively work with emergent multilingual learners and students with learning differences, including those displaying characteristics of dyslexia.

The event featured speakers who highlighted why literacy is critical for later life success and positive health outcomes.

Publisher and arts advocate Sara Miller McCune shared her thoughts on the importance of literacy. “Reading is more than a way to learn. It is also a way to be happy. It is also a way to grow as an individual, and it is a door that opens in your life and will never be closed afterward. And I feel that every child in this region deserves to have that ability as a human right.”

In addition to sharing her own struggles with reading as a young student in an ESL (English as a Second Language) program, California State Senator Monique Limón supported the need to help struggling readers with hard facts. “If you were a student who was eligible for the national school lunch program, you scored an average of 31 points lower than those who were not eligible. What we are seeing here is that there are structures that make it very difficult for student populations who already struggle in other areas. And to me, it is very important that we try to find a way to help our communities and our students be sure that they can read by the third grade.”

Ever the educator, SB Unified Superintendent Dr. Hilda Maldonado, led the group in an activity to help guests experience what it is like for a student who cannot use context to understand what they are reading.

According to Dr. Maldonado, students fall behind in developing reading skills for many reasons, including learning disabilities, dyslexia, or they are still learning English as a second language. “And so that is the spectrum of learners that we need to look at when we think about professional development. That’s the kind of investment we need to make in how our teachers are given the skill sets that they need in order to teach.”

In a commitment to supporting SB Unified’s struggling readers, the Santa Barbara Education Foundation is continuing to fundraise for an additional $40,000 to implement this essential literacy professional development project.

SBEF also wishes to recognize and thank Love of Literacy Luncheon sponsors, including Pillar Sponsors: Sage Publishing and Montecito Bank & Trust; Ambassador Sponsors: Chevron, KBZ Architects, Lazy Acres, Mechanics Bank, and Tisha Ford; Champion Sponsors:  19six Architects, Arroyo Seco, First 5 Santa Barbara County, Montecito Journal, Santa Barbara City College Foundation, and Mark Watson Professional Fiduciary; with additional support provided by Griffin & Thornburgh, San Marcos High School Culinary Arts Program, and Tecolote Book Shop.