By Isabel Duarte-Gray, Program Assistant at the Jewish Community Relations Council
The night before Jerilyn Gelt learned about the Jewish Coalition for Literacy, she enjoyed an unexpected phone conversation with the 10-year-old daughter of a family friend. “I asked her why she was up so late, and she said ‘I’m reading a book,’” explained Jerilyn. “I asked ‘Isn’t it fun when you find an author you really like?’ And she said, ‘Yes, and sometimes I like to be in the book!’”
The next day, Jerilyn attended services for Rosh Hashanah, where her Rabbi addressed the role of Jews as the “People of the Book” and encouraged his congregation to consider volunteering at the Jewish Coalition for Literacy. Remembering the vitality and enthusiasm of the child she’d spoken to the night before, Jerilyn quickly signed up to volunteer with JCL as a tutor.
Jerilyn and her former JCL tutee, Jamila Grizzard, at Jamila’s high school graduation in May.
Jerilyn is one of hundreds of Jewish Coalition for Literacy volunteers who are trained and placed with K-3 students in underserved Bay Area public schools and after-school programs. The program offers an hour of individual literacy training per week to over 1,000 local public school students, distributes thousands of new and gently used children’s books to its partner schools and students, and hosts multilingual training workshops to help parents of JCL students bring the love of reading home. JCL is a wonderful opportunity for Jewish community members to practice Tikkun Olam and help support under-resourced California public school systems in their own neighborhoods.
When Jerilyn joined JCL twelve years ago, she was searching for something “more meaningful” from her community outreach work. These days, Jerilyn has her hands full, serving as President of the Jewish Community Relations Council, but she still makes time for tutoring through the Jewish Coalition for Literacy. “It’s invaluable,” she explained.
“I’d guess that most of the children tutored by JCL volunteers rarely if ever get to spend an hour a day or even a half hour a day with an adult who focuses just on them.”
Jewish Coalition for Literacy tutors have produced remarkable results. Teachers report that JCL students increase an average of three reading levels per school year. Moreover, 95% of JCL pupils show improvement in reading comprehension, 97% become more motivated to read in class, and 95% demonstrate more confidence in their ability to read aloud. With more than half of California children in the 4th grade reading below grade level, the Jewish Coalition for Literacy provides much-needed support to children during a crucial period in their development. Jerilyn can attest to the lasting impact of JCL’s program first-hand, as she recently attended the high school graduation of one of her former JCL students.
Jerilyn began tutoring Jamila Grizzard through JCL when Jamila had just begun the fourth grade at the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, a public elementary school in San Francisco’s Castro district. Although Jamila struggled with reading disabilities, she and Jerilyn persevered and she showed steady improvement. At the end of the school year, Jamila and her mother asked Jerilyn to continue tutoring her, which she did through Middle School and even occasionally in high school . For the next eight years, the two met in libraries, at the Boys and Girls club, and even on weekends to study and enjoy cultural events. One week they’d work on a presentation for social studies, the next they would explore the San Francisco Arboretum. This spring, Jerilyn looked on proudly as Jamila accepted her high school diploma and was accepted to San Francisco City College. She will be the first member of her family to attend college when she begins this fall.
The Jewish Coalition for Literacy provides more than reading resources and support to underserved communities—it enriches the lives of all its participants, tutors and students alike. “The [JCL] experience is really beyond giving money,” Jerilyn emphasized. “It’s giving of your time, and I think that the more time you give with these little kids, the more you see it matters.”
Become a JCL tutor
Register for one of the upcoming free tutor training workshops at www.jclread.org.
The Jewish Coalition for Literacy is funded in part by a $95,000 JCF annual grant and is a joint project of Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.