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SU's La Casita partners with New York humanities council to promote public literacy

January 14, 2010

Rob Enslin
(315) 443-3403

SU’s La Casita Cultural Center Project is partnering with the New York Council for the Humanities for “Together—Book Talk for Kids and Parents,” a forum for parents and children to discuss books and ideas across generations and language differences. The statewide series, presented in English and Spanish, continues each Wednesday through Feb. 10 from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Mundy Library (1204 Geddes St., Syracuse). “Together” is free and open to the public. Registration information is available at http://www.nyhumanities.org/discussion_groups/kids_and_parents/together.

La Casita is a Chancellor’s Leadership Project coordinated by Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla with help from Silvio Torres-Saillant. Both are principal investigators of the grant project and are professors in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences.

According to the council, children lose interest in reading for fun between the ages of 9 and 11. Also, research shows that parents’ own reading has a strong impact on their children’s future reading habits. “As a result of the immigrant background of parents—the case with many Hispanic residents of the West Side of Syracuse—a linguistic divide has been added to the generational gap, causing a lack of communication about books between parents and children,” says Lara-Bonilla, a Spanish professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics. “The dual-language version of ‘Together’ enables us to address these trends by involving parents and kids in discussions about personal, public and historical issues through the close reading of selected picture books and novels.”

An important goal of the series, explains Torres-Saillant, is to validate English and Spanish by empowering parents as a source of knowledge. “One of our goals is to foster an open exchange of ideas between parents and children while emphasizing the importance and pleasure of reading,” he adds. Torres-Saillant is professor of English and one of two William P. Tolley Distinguished Teaching Professors in the Humanities.

Each 90-minute session is facilitated by Gretchen Wintermantel, an Arts and Sciences graduate student, and Monica Garcia Taylor, a teacher affiliated with the Syracuse Peace Council. They are assisted by Yuliana de los Santos, a graduate student at SUNY Upstate Medical University, and by Janet Park, Mundy Branch manager. The series alternates between four picture books (“La Mariposa,” “The Librarian of Basra,” “Smoky Night” and “Baseball Saved Us”) and two novels (“Because of Winn Dixie” and “Esperanza Rising”), all of which explore key themes in American life, including courage and freedom. “Each family receives Spanish and English versions of the books at home, where they read them together before coming to Mundy to discuss them,” says Park, adding that Say Yes to Education was helpful in recruiting family participants. “I can’t think of a better way to involve the entire family in the learning process.”

La Casita Cultural Center is one of 19 Chancellor’s Leadership Projects that exemplify the University vision of Scholarship in Action. The project seeks to establish a physical gathering place on Syracuse’s Near West Side to foster multimodal, multigenerational campus-community conversations and to serve as an intellectual and artistic bridge linking various communities, including Latino populations across and beyond Syracuse. La Casita, whose board of advisors includes faculty, students and administrators from schools and colleges across the University, works in tandem with various community organizations and with institutional support from the Near West Side Initiative.

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