Literacy center fosters kids' reading skills

By Shay K. McKinley
November 26, 2002

RANCHO PENASQUITOS -- It's a sunny morning here, and two 6-year-olds are arguing loudly. Not over a baseball game or who gets to watch television. These two are huddled together intently searching through a table filled with books. "I want to read this one!" "No, I'm reading that one!" It's music to Cindy Marten's ears. Marten, a literacy specialist from Los Penasquitos School, has created a literacy center at Canyon Rim apartment complex adjacent to the school.

The official grand opening is at 10:30 a.m. today. "For the past few years, we have noticed that when kids go back to school in September, their reading skills have dropped because they haven't been reading at home," she said.

"That was a problem I couldn't live with anymore and I decided to do something about it." The new center is available to all children, not just residents or Los Penasquitos students. Fairfield Housing, which owns the apartments, partnered with a nonprofit organization, Wakeland Housing, which develops programs for lower income families who live in Canyon Rim's affordable housing. Wakeland offers services such as inoculations and education programs for children, and medical care for seniors. More than 100 children who attend Los Penasquitos School live at Canyon Rim. Originally, Marten considered asking Fairfield if they would donate an apartment for the summer in which she could create the literacy center. After approaching the company, she learned that the complex already had a community center, which housed computers with learning software. Since March, volunteer Champ Rhodes has run an afternoon homework club for middle schoolers at the center. "Some people don't even know how to read, let alone use the computer, so the space wasn't being used to its full potential," Marten said. Marten and Joan Pelkey of Wakeland began brainstorming how they could turn the community center into a literacy center. The result is like a mini-library.

Children can borrow books or sit in the center and read. And every Tuesday and Thursday from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., Los Penasquitos teachers volunteer to read. Children are now given incentives or prizes for every hour they read during the summer.

For instance, they will get to decorate a paper fish to go with the theme Dive Into Reading.

Marten's personal goal is that 1,000 fish will decorate the center at summer's end.

Now decorated with the children's art, it is a place they can call their own. The youngsters have also been able to leave their personal mark by choosing the center's books. Marten took three children, Fantasia Brown, 10, Inaria King, 8, and Antwoinne Brown, 10, to a store to buy books for the center.

She gave each child $100 and some guidelines.

From there, they were free to choose independently. All three agreed the trip was a lot of fun. Marten has promised other regulars that they will get a turn to shop in the bookstore, too. Among the center's regulars are Stephanie Bray and her three children. "It's really good for the kids to do this while they're out of school.

It helps them to stay focused and pay attention and keep reading," she said. When school begins, the center will stay open with different hours, which have yet to be determined. Community support has enabled the program to grow. Marten wrote City Councilman Scott Peters, who helped her secure a Community Development Block Grant for $8,000. Donations from community members and local sponsors are making up the difference of $2,000. Most of the money is going to purchase about 1,500 books. "Literacy in children is my passion and hopefully through this program we can hit the ground running when school starts," Marten said. She is still accepting donations of funds and books.

Donated used books will be given to children to keep. For more information, call Marten, (858) 484-4080. Do you have a story idea for Rancho Penasquitos?

Contact Shay K. McKinley at (760) 752-6795 or e-mail For special events, please alert us at least four weeks in advance.

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The San Diego Union-Tribune (Print Edition)