May 14, 2010 > Luz Ponce - Literacy Award winner
Luz Ponce - Literacy Award winner
By Suzanne Ortt
Photos By courtesy of Searles Elementary School
Community liaison, student/parent advocate and now, award winner, Luz Ponce has been selected as the winner of the Walter J. McHugh Award for 2010. This award, honoring the memory of McHugh, a former professor at California State University East Bay, recognizes aides, volunteers, and students who assist educators in this county. The Alameda County Reading Association bestows it annually to those who exhibit a commitment to and a special interest in reading advancement.
Ponce steps into a normal workday at Searles Elementary School at 8 a.m. and continues to 12 noon, five days a week. She begins her day by checking her email for teachers' requests for specific students. Next she gets busy on the day's problems. These requests usually center on attendance and behavior issues.
After review and investigation, Ponce will contact the parents. One common area of concern is student literacy. When brought to her attention, Ponce will have the student's reading level assessed. She then suggests appropriate books and steps parents may take to help their child. Whatever the problem, she makes certain to follow-up. Ponce's emphasis on literacy is one criteria required for the McHugh award.
One mother approached the school regarding her third grade son's academic problems and Ponce worked on assessment with his teacher. The mother followed all the suggestions regarding testing and results determined the child had a learning disability. Once placed appropriately, there was a marked improvement in his academic performance.
One of Ponce's favorite activities is working with parent groups. In January, Ponce assisted other staff members, Donna Lindsay, Kathy Langham, and Colette Tobias, to offer an eight-week class for parents on listening skills, alternatives to punishment, reading level books, and academic issues.
Another crucial role held by Ponce is translation services (Spanish/English), especially at parent-teacher conference time. Parents frequently need resources for medical insurance, counseling, and other issues. In the midst of these challenges, she finds time to assists the principal with the Searles online newsletter.
Ponce says she was "unaware of the nomination so the award letter was a real surprise." Her husband, Victor, was also excited by the award.
Searles Principal Debi Knoth notes, "As a community liaison, she provides resources between the parents and the school. Highly trained, she assists kids at risk. Ponce works tirelessly in supporting literacy. She ensures that parents, especially those who speak Spanish, know the value of reading. She instructs parents in the skills needed to encourage reading at home. Mrs. Ponce directly or indirectly assists all students at Searles. She is an essential link between teachers and parents. Mrs. Ponce is effective in her role because the community holds her in such high regard."
Ponce sees Searles Elementary as an encouraging environment for students, staff, and parents. "The school's motto is 'We are Family' and it is true. All staff work closely together and are on the same page. Principal Knoth is very empathetic."
Two decades ago, Luz and Victor emigrated from Mexico. A few years ago both achieved another milestone... citizenship. In the beginning it was a struggle to survive while attending night classes to learn English. Today, both are happy with their work and family life. Daughter Cynthia, age 19, attends college and works part-time in retail; Son Emilio is 14 years old and is in middle school.
As a literacy advocate and community liaison, Ponce has a perfect motto: "Value Education."
Alameda County Reading Association Dinner and Awards Presentations
Tuesday May 25
No Host Bar 6:30 p.m./Buffet Dinner 7 p.m.
Don Jose Mexican Restaurant
3430 Village Drive, Castro Valley
$22 per person