Virtual Story School helps Tucson kids develop early reading skills | schools

Just like Make Way for Books’ superhero Paula Palabras grows strong by learning words, so too do your kids. 

Families who sign up for the local nonprofit’s Virtual Story School (which has both English and Spanish options) will meet Paula Palabras and develop skills to promote language development and literacy at home. “Palabras” means “words” in Spanish.  

“The goal of the program is to have children fall in love with books and develop emergent literarcy skills so they go on to become great readers,” says Make Way for Books CEO Jenny Volpe. “And parents also gain confidence and skills to support their child.” 

Virtual Story School is an adaptation — albeit with multiple new components — of an in-person program for kids ages 3-5. For 10 weeks, a parent and child meet weekly with a family literacy specialist over Zoom in a cohort of eight families. Then, throughout the week, families receive curriculum videos and app-based homework assignments to tackle. Through all of it, Make Way for Books wants to make reading and learning words fun. 

“There’s a little bit of a classic story time, but it’s more about engagement,” Volpe says of the Zoom portion. “I think the way we have communicated about it is that parents and children engage in literacy activities with the Story School teacher on Zoom. … They’re modeling and showing parents how to read books so the kids develop these skills.” 

Kids will also receive school supplies and 20 culturally-relevant books that the program will use during classes and throughout the week.

So far, around 500 families have signed up, so spots are limited for the fall program, Volpe says. But, if you sign up and the fall program is full, you will be put on a waitlist for spring. The deadline to sign up is Sept. 15. Story School begins Sept. 29. 

“We know that when children are this age, 90 percent of brain growth is still happening, and it’s the most important window to really set up a child for success in terms of literacy, language and cognitive growth,” Volpe says. 

Developing these emergent literacy skills is connected to a child’s success throughout their school career, she adds. 

And while Make Way for Books’ mission focuses on connecting with under-served children, Volpe points out that the pandemic has created education gaps even for the children who would normally have preschool access. 

That’s why developing a quality, virtual program was so important to Make Way for Books. And why it’s so important that a consistent caregiver participates in the Virtual Story School. 

“What all of this research says is that a parent is a child’s first and most essential teacher, and what we do is equip parents with the tools and skills and knowledge to specifically support children’s literacy development,” Volpe says. 

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