UA College of Education expands across the border to improve literacy
Books of varying genres are stacked on Sunday, Feb. 28. The UA College of Education plans to expand its World of Words program across the border to Mexico in collaboration with Resplandor International.
The UA College of Education’s World of Words is growing its library and strengthening its literacy efforts by creating a visiting scholar program in Mexico in collaboration with Resplandor International.
The program honors Richard Ruiz who died in spring 2015. Ruiz was a former honors college faculty member and head of the UA’s Department of Mexican American Studies.
Kathy Short, professor in the College of Education and WOW program director, said the program hopes to bring cultures across borders together.
“What’s powerful about this program is it’s a collaboration across so many different groups who are working together to establish a community resource and build connections,” Short said.
WOW focuses on building intercultural understanding through global literature with a collection of global books. The book levels range from preschool to 12th grade. The program has a website containing several resources and journals that educators from over 180 different countries have access to, according to Short.
She said this collaboration came about because the program aims to do a lot of outreach locally and globally, and Resplandor International had a desire to create a library as a community resource. The library is a way to reach out to children and adults in the community by focusing on literacy.
Todd Fletcher, associate professor in the UA Department of Disability and Psychoeducational Studies and director of Resplandor International, said part of the idea to create this program came from his already-developed relationships in Mexico.
Resplandor, which was founded in 2009, is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization here in the U.S. Resplandor’s goal is promoting social and economic development through education, according to Fletcher.
“The reason this all came about is because of my experience in Mexico,” Fletcher said. “When I studied there, it was all about building bridges, not walls, between our countries and how we can promote intercultural understanding and greater cooperation in the Americas.”
This year will be Fletcher’s 30th year taking UA students to Mexico through a service learning study abroad program called Verano en Mexico.
“This is an opportunity to develop relationships with local and regional communities to promote education, to promote literature, literacy and arts,” Fletcher said.
The library will be a place where people from different communities can check out books and access computers.
“I think that, while we see libraries here in the United States as a free, public resource, libraries are not an available free, public resource in Mexico,” Short said. “I don’t think that we understand fully how important having access to the books and materials are in terms of literacy and building cultural understanding.”
WOW and Resplandor launched a fundraising campaign earlier this month in hope of raising $10,000 for a scholar in residence. They already raised $6,000 for Alba Nora Martinez, this year’s Richard Ruiz Scholar in Residence.
Martinez, who worked at the UA for over 20 years and was a lecturer in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, was not only a colleague of Ruiz’s, but was recruited to the UA by him as well. Fletcher said Martinez is the perfect candidate because she is bilingual and bi-national, and possesses the knowledge and skills to operate in both environments here, as well as in Mexico.
The money raised will go toward Martinez’s travel to and from Mexico, the cost of her stay, as well as her payment for working with the community as a scholar, Fletcher said. Martinez will be working at the base for Resplandor in Cajones, 10 miles outside Gunajuato, Mexico, during June and July. She will be helping the surrounding communities.
“I feel very honored because without Richard, I wouldn’t be here,” Martinez said. “He brought me to the University of Arizona and this is a way of honoring him.”
In terms of a library, it’s one thing to just have one but another to have someone there who can facilitate the process and teach kids how to use the library, as well as the joys of reading, according to Fletcher. He said if kids enjoy reading and are taught libraries can be interesting, they can become life-long learners.
Martinez said she’s thankful for the opportunity to change the lives of children by giving them more opportunities for education and learning about the world.
“When I see children with a book, I imagine them having the world between their hands,” Martinez said.
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