Bilingual Books: CMSD Teacher Shares the Magic of Reading with Students and Families

“You don’t realize it, Mom, but you’ve always had that magic with books,” Damaris Sanchez recalls her daughter saying.

Sanchez prepared for her teaching career at Cleveland State University. Now, with five years of teaching experience, Damaris has had a powerful impact in the lives of those around her, including helping to provide access to over 400 books for the entire pre-k to 3rd grade classes at Clark Elementary School. 

Professor Patricia Barto introduced Sanchez to the Cleveland Schools Book Fund as a student teacher. From there, Sanchez would attend the professional development workshops, and she’s been a major supporter ever since. “I’m grateful for Cleveland’s School Book Fund as a new teacher. I hope to see more schools take advantage of the resources,” she says.  

Sanchez is a bilingual teacher who understands the struggle of learning a new language and views reading as the superpower that helped her to overcome classroom obstacles:  “Growing up very poor in a household where my parents did not speak English, reading was like a mini vacation to me.”

Her mother would read to her in Spanish, and Sanchez believes that such family story time holds tremendous benefits for childhood literacy. “I raised my son and daughter as a single parent,” she says, “and bedtime reading was sacred. At 8 p.m. I’d have one child to my left and the other on the right while I sat in the middle and read for 30 minutes.”  She adds that while children don’t always have the language to describe their feelings, “using basic and natural conversations around reading can help.” 

To encourage parental engagement in family reading, Sanchez hosted a parent reading night last winter. She purchased a turkey and two gift cards that participating parents could win in a raffle. The event was successful--half of the students and their parents attended. 

The time that her mother spent reading to her in Spanish has been advantageous to her as an educator in yet another way, allowing her to connect with students emotionally and socially. For instance, she often reads and speaks to students in the classroom in Spanish to encourage classroom inclusivity and empathy from those who only speak English. 

Sanchez credits The Cleveland Schools Book Fund for providing her students with access to diverse and bilingual literature such as Arthur Dorros’ Abuela, a classroom favorite provided by the Book Fund.

According to Sanchez, many of her students have limited exposure to the world beyond their neighborhood, and many do not borrow books from their local library. However, through books such as Abuela, Sanchaz cultivates a love for reading, connecting with students personally. “Reading allows them to experience different cultures, ideas and to grow socially and emotionally. With reading, they can discover that they’re not the only one experiencing certain circumstances,” she explains.

While students have been out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanchez is communicating diligently with them. In her class, 15 out of 20 students are English-learning students, born in another country. She encourages their parents to consistently read with their children and to use audio playback to help follow along.

Sanchez expresses concern that the pandemic may set second-language students back. While in school, they were exposed to the English language daily, but at home--where English is not the native language-- their exposure to English is likely decreased. Nevertheless, Sanchez is optimistic because “they’ve worked so hard to get to this point.”

With a teacher like Damaris Sanchez, those students are poised to succeed. As her daughter put it, Sanchez “has that magic with books.”

 

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