SJSU SLIS Alumni Improve Literacy in California


Over the past year, literacy rates in two California communities have improved, thanks to the efforts of two alumni of the San José State University School of Library and Information Science. Christy Aguirre and Silvia Cisneros spearheaded literacy initiatives that have garnered state and national recognition.

SJSU SLIS alumna Christy Aguirre was named the 2012 Outstanding Librarian in Support of Literacy by the California Library Association (CLA), an annual award that recognizes librarians dedicated to adult literacy.

Her initiatives brought Desert Storm veterans into the Sacramento Public Library’s literacy program and built partnerships with the local Recreation and Park District to support neighborhood summer reading camps. Through outreach efforts to the Sacramento County Unified School District, local daycares, and Head Start programs, she was able to offer grant-funded literacy workshops.

Aguirre’s recent efforts to promote family literacy resulted in more than 2,000 participants in the Sacramento summer reading program, a participation rate that more than tripled over two years. Her youngest participant was four days old and her oldest, 96 years (preferring audio books to text).

In Southern California, literacy initiatives developed by SJSU SLIS alumna Silvia Cisneros, Senior Librarian of Youth Services at Santa Ana Public Library, have yielded similarly stunning results and garnered national recognition. Cisneros’ local promotion of Dia de los Niños / Dia de los Libros (Children’s Day/Book Day), a longstanding Hispanic tradition to connect children and literacy, attracted more than 1,500 local attendees in 2012.

Her continued success with this annual event, now seven years running under her direction, recently earned her the title of California Dia de los Niños/ Dia de los Libros Ambassador from the founder of Dia and literacy advocate Pat Mora. As a Dia Ambassador, Cisneros will promote this event throughout California and guide librarians who have little or no resources for such an event.

This past year, Cisneros researched, designed, and implemented a reading comprehension program called “Literacy on the Move” for second and third grade at-risk students in the Santa Ana, California area. Second and third graders received a series of targeted tutor-led workshops in reading fluency, comprehension, and listening. To develop the program, Cisneros interviewed local educators, teachers, and reading specialists in the Santa Ana Unified School District and found that reading fluency was key to improving literacy rates. 

Following additional research and planning, Cisneros gathered educational materials, and then tested various ways to turn literacy lessons into fun learning stations. Then, Cisneros designed a 17 week program held in six different sites around the city to improve reading comprehension. The results were unprecedented: 80% of the 200 participants showed increased reading comprehension skills as a result of Cisneros’ workshops. Every single student improved from the first exam to the second, and parents and teachers have noticed improvements. Based on this success, Cisneros’ program will continue under her direction and expand to include fourth graders.