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Nine-year-old Nancy Cervantes is teaching her parents English. With the help of colorful illustrations and stories about caterpillars who eat too much, she leads her very own language lesson every time she opens one of her favorite storybooks.

Raised in a non-English-speaking family, Cervantes used to struggle with the phonetic tools required for reading. Her busy second grade class at Powell Elementary made obtaining individual instruction difficult, and with no English speakers at home, she was unable to get help with her reading assignments. In an attempt to bolster Cervantes’ skills, her mother signed her up for one-on-one tutoring sessions through the Azusa Reads Program at the Azusa City Library.

Azusa Reads, created by the Center for Service Learning and Research at Azusa Pacific University, sponsors this in partnership with the Azusa City Library and the Azusa Unified School District (AUSD). Five days a week, Azusa Pacific undergraduates interact with AUSD students who are seeking assistance with reading. Megan Blaze ’03, the program’s student coordinator, tutored Cervantes from September to May. Together, they worked on phonics and books Cervantes could master. Four months into their lessons, Cervantes read Eric Carle’s Have You Seen My Cat? It was the first book she had ever read completely by herself.
“She was so proud and excited,” said Blaze. “She took the book home and read it to her parents even though they couldn’t understand the words.”

And then she read it again, and again, and again.

Just as Cervantes’ skills improved and she brought home new Eric Carle books, her parents’ began to recognize the English sounds.

“Nancy’s mom would try to practice her English with me when she came to the library,” said Blaze. “She really wanted to learn how to speak it and would ask Nancy to keep reading to them at home.” Cervantes’ scores in school improved, while her confidence in her abilities soared. “The best part about working with the program is the improvement I see,” said Blaze, a liberal studies major with a concentration in Spanish. “I’ve been told I was the one who pulled a child out of a hole in reading. Tutoring is such a small thing that I can do to help.” The opportunity to impact AUSD students confirmed Blaze’s decision to teach in an English as a second language classroom. “This experience has given me a desire to work with kids,” she said. “It has made me more confident that I made the right career choice.”

Today, Cervantes reads a variety of books, but Eric Carle’s remain her favorite. Between the pages of her books, she discovers magical adventures, while her parents continue to learn from the likes of a hungry caterpillar, a busy spider, and a lonely firefly.