Helping People

Homestead children write their own books as part of nonprofit literacy program

Evelyn Mateo, right, shares her book with fellow new authors Briana Maravilla, left, and Rosario Gomez at the New Authors Ceremony at the Miami Dade College, Homestead Campus on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016.
Evelyn Mateo, right, shares her book with fellow new authors Briana Maravilla, left, and Rosario Gomez at the New Authors Ceremony at the Miami Dade College, Homestead Campus on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

Demi Jones hunches over a table as she scribbles a story for 6-year-old Briana Maravilla.

With sapphire hair and winged eyeliner, the 20-year-old nursing student at Miami Dade College waits for Briana to think of a synonym.

“Can you think of a new word for hungry?” Jones asks the first grader.

Briana bites her bottom lip and swings her legs as she thinks. She looks back at Jones and shakes her head in defeat.

“How about starving?” Jones asks.

Still biting her lip, Briana nods slowly.

Jones smiles and continues writing a story that Briana imagined about a family of bears and a selfish queen bee. Their story is part of an eight-week program, Pages for All Ages, where children from the migrant community write books with an assist from college students at Miami Dade College campus in Homestead.

The literacy-based program, which is run by two Miami Dade College professors, Jessyca Perez and Yanley Cordero, works with children attending the after-school program run by the nonprofit Enfamilia. Enfamilia provides a variety of educational programs for migrant farm workers and low-income families in South Miami-Dade.

Cordero wanted to find a way to give her students confidence and to increase literacy in migrant children. She said the name of Pages for All Ages came to her in a dream.

“I do some of my best thinking at 4 a.m.,” she said.

Cordero then paired college students with the elementary and middle school students.

“It’s something that’s very simple, but the benefits are everlasting,” she said. “Who in first grade gets to become an author?”

Since the program’s inception in 2012, more than 300 children have completed the program, Cordero said. Last year the program received recognition from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

On Wednesday night, the program’s 35 students — from first to eighth grade — received their freshly bound books and presented to their parents in a special ceremony.

Arlin Perez beamed as her 6-year-old daughter, Allison, had an Olympic-type medal placed on her neck while wearing a rose gold long gown.

“I am very proud my daughter has a book,” she said in Spanish.

Allison, whose book is about her black chihuahua named Blackie, dedicated her book to her uncle, who often plays with Blackie with her. She said she wants to write another book about ballet because she wants to be a ballerina.

Bryan Vallejo, 7, said he felt shy about getting his book.

“I like reading books,” he said.

The first grader said he liked his mentor, 18-year-old Diana Cordova, and wants to write another story with her.

The Miami Dade College paralegal student grew up in a migrant program much like Bryan.

“I can relate so much to another degree because I was there,” she said. “It’s rewarding in a way.”

Dominique Hickson, 19, one of the mentors, is working with two children on their books.

One of her students, Adrian Reyes, is writing a book about superheroes who save a lion and tiger in a jungle. The 8-year-old said he got his idea from watching the children’s TV series “The Magic School Bus.”

Hickson said it’s rewarding to see the kids become less shy and more open as they work on their books together.

“The attitudes of the kids change a lot,” she said.

Another student, Beyonce Marie, is creating a book titled, “My Family and Me.” It’s the 10-year-old’s second time through the program and her second book. Her first book was about how she met her friends.

“I like talking about my family a lot because I love them,” she said.

Beyonce said the literacy program allows her to be creative and meet new friends. She said she wants to be an artist, singer and model when she grows up.

“I like creating things,” Beyonce said.

And by having college students as mentors, the children are exposed to college and attaining their dreams.

“We want to see more kids thinking about going to college,” Perez said. “My dream is one day I will be sitting in a class and have a student say that they went through Pages for All Ages.”

Added Carlos Salgado, who founded Enfamilia with his wife Rocio Tafur-Salgado 15 years ago: “I think these kind of programs need to be expanded because I believe the main purpose of education is to empower the students. I know what this type of creative process can do to a student — they can be successful.”

How to get involved

To make a donation, email Jessyca Perez at JPerez11@mdc.edu or Yanely Cordero at YCorder1@mdc.edu. The program has two locations: an Enfamilia site at 29360 SW 158th Ct. and a RCMA site at 13600 SW 312th St.

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