The Grizzly Claw

Athletes as Readers and Leaders celebrates 10th anniversary

Genesis+Montoya%2C+Ethan+Baird%2C+and+Trent+Tompkins+reading+to+second+grade+class+at+Steinbeck+Elementary+School.
Genesis Montoya, Ethan Baird, and Trent Tompkins reading to second grade class at Steinbeck Elementary School.

Genesis Montoya, Ethan Baird, and Trent Tompkins reading to second grade class at Steinbeck Elementary School.

Photo By Emily Keomany

Photo By Emily Keomany

Genesis Montoya, Ethan Baird, and Trent Tompkins reading to second grade class at Steinbeck Elementary School.

Emily Keomany, Staff Editor

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Central High’s Athletes as Readers and Leaders are celebrating their 10th anniversary this October. Current ARL members, along with returning alumni members, read to Steinbeck elementary students and then, commemorated the group’s landmark at a luncheon. ARL has read to approximately 10,000 students in this previous year and is striving for a higher number this year.

Central High East Campus librarian and ARL program coordinator Christine Flores along with library volunteer, Jim Sherman who has been a part of the program since 2013, currently recruit, organize, train and transport students who aren’t able to drive to locations. The group’s success has been no easy task as Flores must recruit a new round of inspiring student-athletes each year. Next, she must train those students to engage and serve as mentors to a new generation of children, then schedule events that work for both elementary and high school student schedules. The workload is immense, but so are the rewards. Flores, who took over the program in 2014 stated, “I wanted to continue spreading literacy and promote healthy habits within the kids. It’s just an amazing program.”

It’s amazing how far we’ve come.”

— Jim Sherman, Central Library Volunteer

The student organization that began with only seven football players has expanded to a membership of over 100 students from a variety of campus teams including pep & cheer, folklorico, and badminton. This year,  alternating groups of approximately ten students will visit a different elementary school every Friday from October through May in order to read to as many elementary school classes as possible and spread the message that successful student leaders can be athletic and academic.

The original creator of ARL, Janet Wile states, “I didn’t think it would’ve been this big and I wasn’t sure that we were going to find someone fit to continue the program, but we did!” Wile left Central High School’s East campus library and took a position at the Central Unified district office hoping to advance literacy on a broader level. She joined the search for her replacement and found a kindred spirit in the highly educated, literacy minded educator Christine Flores.

She and Flores recently attended a state conference where they spoke on the benefits and ways of expanding the ARL program in other districts. They are both hopeful other schools will adopt the program to spread literacy and healthy habits with the mentoring approach that ARL fosters. Program advocates report that children are more likely to follow in the footsteps of student-athletes who personally reach out to them.

Despite it’s current success, this long-lived, ever-growing program started from humble beginnings. Wile approached a Central football coach and proposed the idea for combining athletics and academics. The idea was met with enthusiasm from the coach and a few players who had a  free academic prep block. The group took their trial run on Halloween of 2008 and it resulted in a huge success for everyone involved, thus beginning a literacy and health outreach program for Central Unified. There have been shortages of student-mentors over the years, leaving Flores to hunt for student-athletes who would be both willing and inspirational. Despite these challenges, Flores kept the ARL legacy intact.

The luncheon held on the 12th served to recognize the value of the ARL program, as well as its organizers and participants. Student alumni were invited to enjoy the anniversary and some chose to speak, along with current ARL members, about how the experience impacted them. “Athletes Readers and Leaders definitely sparked my interest in education,” states Lovedeep Malhi, who took part in the program six years ago. Others spoke on how their involvement in the program changed and affected who they are. Ethan Baird, a current student and three-year member of the program expressed, “Athletes as Readers and Leaders definitely changed who I am today.

Central library volunteer Jim Sherman was also recognized with a plaque for all that he does for the program. “It’s amazing how far we have come,” said Sherman with tears in his eyes.

Student-athletes, volunteers or donors interested in joining the efforts of Athletes as Readers & Leaders should contact East librarian Christine Flores for more information: [email protected]

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Athletes as Readers and Leaders celebrates 10th anniversary