you're reading ...
Natalie Skinner, Spring 2014

City Heights literacy programs: Serving diverse populations one child at a time

With a population of nearly 80,000 people living in an area that spans four miles, City Heights contains the highest density of children in the city of San Diego. Fifty-four percent of those children are learning English as a second language.

Many people walk down University Avenue

Different cultures and ethnicities make City Heights the melting pot of San Diego. Photo by Natalie Skinner.

Nearly half the population is Hispanic, 15 percent are Asian, 15 percent are African or African American, and 15 percent are Middle Eastern. The remainder is white or another ethnicity.

As a result, many children entering schools in City Heights aren’t prepared because they’re not equipped with basic literacy skills. Through research, Tia Anzellotti, the facilitator of collective impact at the City Heights Partnership for Children, found schools in the San Diego Unified School District are behind other school districts in the county.

One of these schools, Rosa Parks Elementary School, fell nearly 10 percent behind the statewide average on its language arts proficiency test in the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

Ethnic Diversity Chart

Half of City Heights is Hispanic.


When Anzellotti compared these districts, she and parents of children in these schools felt something should be done to fix the problem.

Parents in City Heights are seeking help when it comes to teaching their children how to read and write in English. In order to meet the demands, literacy experts and others passionate about reading are creating programs to help these children catch up to the reading level they should be at.

Literacy advocate creates non-profit to outsmart poverty

San Diego native Emily Moberly, who has a passion for reading, founded the non-profit Traveling Stories in her efforts to help children everywhere learn to read. She sets up a story tent every Saturday at the City Heights Farmer’s Market and volunteers her time to read to children—or lets them read to her.

MULTIMEDIA: Emily Moberly talks about her non-profit Traveling Stories and the story tent at City Heights Farmer’s Market.

Rosemary Goudy, a San Diego resident, grew up in City Heights in a time when she and most of the residents were white. She said the area became ethnically diverse over time.

Now, she brings her 9-year-old autistic son, Miles, to the Farmer’s Market as much as possible so he can read his favorite books at the story tent.

“The tent is a very valuable asset,” Goudy said, watching her son read under the tent.

Not only are residents making an impact on the community but experts are creating programs to fight illiteracy.

Reading program works to close literacy gap

Words A!ive is just one of the few programs in City Heights created to serve at-risk children.

Although many people have attempted to fix the problem, there is still a substantial need for these programs, said Amanda Bonds, the early and community literacy programs manager at Words A!live.

“I do think we are lacking, but not for lack of effort,” Bonds said.

Words A!ive serves nearly 8,000 children in the county and focuses on closing the literacy gap in children who are at risk or are from low-income families. Many of these children are the first generation in their families born in the United States, and parents of these children sometimes have a different idea of when and how their children learn to read, Bonds said.

This organization, however, makes only a dent in the population that is in need.

Literacy center intervenes in at-risk children’s lives

Graduate students from San Diego State University in the “Graduate Program in Reading” work at the SDSU Literacy Center to provide intervention for K-12 students through literacy assessment and tutoring.

Dede Alpert Center for Community Engagement

The SDSU Literacy Center is located at the Dede Alpert Center for Community Engagement building in City Heights. Photo by Natalie Skinner.

Reading English, let alone learning it, is often difficult for children in this community because the children come from such diverse backgrounds.

Those at the Literacy Center are working to change these children’s lives, especially while they’re young, said Dr. Pamela Ross, the Literacy Center’s interim director.

“We can work with children who are at great risk,” Ross said.

She added that most children’s reading improves quickly after coming into the program.

Although these are among the few literacy programs in the county, researchers are creating more programs to help prevent illiteracy.

Research program establishes homework clubs

One program that conducts research is the City Heights Partnership for Children.

This organization partners with leaders from educational programs to gather local data.

“We’re in the process of working with our partners to establish some homework clubs, where teachers can refer kids in who are struggling with their homework to get some extra help,” Anzellotti said.

“People are coming from places where they either didn’t have formal education, or the education system is very different than it is here,” Anzellotti said.

Different languages fill City Heights.

A few of the languages spoken in City Heights can be seen on the buildings along University Avenue. Photo by Natalie Skinner.

Those in the organization collect data about the community with their partners. They gather the information to create programs that assist children in this area where nearly 3o different languages are spoken.

“People are coming from places where they either didn’t have formal education, or the education system is very different than it is here,” Anzellotti said.






Comments are closed.