A year and a half ago, Laryssa Almazan wanted to build volcanoes, not write about them.
But last month, the fourth-grader at Panorama Elementary in Santa Ana stood up before an audience of adults to read aloud from a 26-page book on volcanoes that she’d written herself.
It was a shining moment for a young girl who had always been a decent reader but struggled with comprehension. Laryssa had never voluntarily opened a book. That began to change, her father, Juan Almazan, said, after he saw an ad for the Kathleen Muth Reading and Learning Center in the Orange Unified School District newsletter.
The center, run by Chapman University’s College of Educational Studies, helps students in first through sixth grades on all aspects of literacy such as improving reading comprehension and crafting and publishing their own stories.
“As weird as this is to say about a reading center, it isn’t her reading that’s improved, but her attitude toward it,” Almazan said.
Students meet weekly for 90-minute one-on-one sessions with a tutor. Each meeting is specifically designed for the student’s needs. The center provides books for each student’s reading level.
The center, founded in 1978, has grown to include dozens of tutors and has 50 to 75 students a semester. Tutoring costs $300 a semester, but many students are on scholarships, assistant professor Margie Curwen said. The program always has a waiting list.
Laryssa has begun to focus more, and her comprehension has increased dramatically, Almazan said. Right now she loves Cam Jansen mysteries. Her younger brother Isaac, a second-grader who is in his first semester in the program, loves the Magic Tree House books.
“I never really read as a kid,” their father said. “Book reports I would just skim through, and I never paid attention to the reading list. Now, through the center, my whole family understands why it’s important to read.”
Through the generosity of Times readers and a match by the McCormick Foundation, nearly $450,000 was granted to local literacy programs this year as a result of the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign.
The Holiday Campaign, part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation fund, raises contributions to support established literacy programs run by nonprofits that serve low-income children, adults and families who are reading below grade levels, are at risk of illiteracy or have limited English proficiency.
Donations are tax deductible as permitted by law and matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Donor information is not traded or published without permission.
Donate at latimes.com/donate or by calling (800) 518-3975. All gifts will receive a written acknowledgment.