Path to ‘America Reads’

Jamie Capetillo

Jamie Capetillo ’19, MA Higher Education & Student Affairs;
 America Reads Graduate Coordinator at the McCarthy Center

Jamie Caputillo (center) with students from the SMART program

In this week’s blog, Jamie recalls her mentoring and literacy tutoring experiences that led her to the McCarthy Center Engage SF program and America Reads.

I have been privileged to have moments in my life that have impacted me so much that they changed the way I identify within myself, look at the world, or straight- up adjusted the life course I was on. I would like to share one of those moments with you all. When I was a junior in college I signed up to be a tutor through our multicultural student services office at the University of Wisconsin La-Crosse. The two pre-college tutoring programs I specifically worked with were our after school Mentoring and Readiness for College (MARC) Program and one our summer programs Summer Mentoring and Reading Together (SMART).

The summer I worked with SMART changed my life. It was my first experience in being a tutor and I was assigned to work with the middle schoolers, with the goal of incorporating social justice into the curriculum. We had two locations for sites, one in La Crosse WI, and the other in Norwalk WI. The differences between these two cities ranged in geography, student demographics, and resources. Norwalk. for example, was a city that had a huge community of Latinx immigrants. Within a few sessions with our middle schoolers in Norwalk, I realized the drastic contrasts between the reading levels for these students, especially  when we compared their reading levels to our middle schoolers at our La Crosse site. For instance, I had a rising 6th grader reading at drastically higher levels than one of our rising 8th graders. When I took the rising 8th grader aside to work on him with different reading techniques, I asked if he had been taught these tools before – his answer was no. I immediately thought of my own father, who was also the son of Latinx immigrants, and how he doesn’t know how to read very well. After working with this student, I asked my dad about his experience in schools growing up, and if his teachers supported him much. His answers were similar to those of my students earlier that day. I was angered at the broken education system that failed my father and now was failing my students. I was frustrated that there was a lack of resources for English as a second language learners and that instead of working with the students, students passed them on to the next grade level, only hurting them more. I know that schools are being overcrowded and underfunded, but I felt like there had to be more that could be done.

I had been told growing up how important school was, and how important going to college was – but what if I never had teachers who invested in me? Would I be in college, and now getting my masters? I made a vow to invest in these students, even if for now that meant just being their tutor and showing up for them. Over that summer we did activities that allowed students to be engaged in creativity and reading. We pulled in their favorite interests and learned more about them, and we talked about issues they were facing being Latinx, Hmong, and Black, and combined that into reading and writing activities.

I went into being a tutor the next year a completely changed person. I began advocating for my high schoolers to be part of the upward bound programs on our campus and looking for other programs they could participate in. I learned the importance of additional precollege programs for first-generation students, and how important community and campus were when it came to investing in students. I helped create a peer mentoring program between Latinas in Norwalk (and another rural city near our university) and Latinas in Higher Education, helping them with FASFA, personal statements, finding pre-college programs, and just being there for support to talk about what it meant to be Latina. The K-12 pipeline to higher education became a new passion and functional area I wanted to explore as I entered the field of student affairs.

This brings me to now and the work I do with America Reads, and the amazing work that Engage SF is doing. To be a part of a team that partners with schools and community centers who are committed to their student’s success and are working to see that reading is something that happens year round has been such a privilege. As I graduate in May and am discovering what my next path is, I will remember to center community in everything I do, and taking what I’ve learned from working with Engage SF and focus on community-identified needs to create intentional, systematic and transformative change. For more information, check out the pages for Engage SF or America Reads and if you’d like and are able to, donate to Engage SF!

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