From Reluctant Readers to Eager Readers

An Immokalee Reader selects “Me and My Amazing Body” by Joan Sweeney

by Noemi Y. Perez

Four times each week throughout the school year, after the bell rings to signal the end of regular classes, more than 650 elementary school students throughout Immokalee gather with teachers and tutors for one of their favorite activities: reading books.

Students in The Immokalee Foundation’s Immokalee Readers program range from kindergarten through fifth grade, and their reading readiness needs a boost to bring them to grade level – an important measurement that helps ensure these young students are better prepared for academic success. How does The Immokalee Foundation address this critical need? By training more than 100 high school students for paid positions as reading tutors

To become a tutor, each high school student must develop a resume and undergo a job interview – an excellent career-building experience for those who apply. Once a high school student is accepted as a tutor, they participate in training to learn how best to coach their young readers. Their work is supervised by certified school teachers who provide evaluations and feedback. And more often than not, the paycheck the tutor receives from the foundation is the first they’ve earned.

Tutor Miranda Herrera practices reading with an Immokalee Foundation student during the Immokalee Readers program

Immokalee High School student Giovanni DeSantiago wasn’t certain what to expect when he first became part of the Immokalee Readers program; some of the students were hesitant, so he helped them find books about subjects that were interesting to them. Soon, DeSantiago realized the students’ enthusiasm for reading grew quickly. “Watching the students become better readers and take pride in their skills is so rewarding,” he said.

DeSantiago also noticed something else among the students he was tutoring – that their sessions were about more than just reading. “I know they look to me as a role model and as a friend,” he said.

The mother of one of our young students shared the inspiring story of her son. She said he was slow to speak as a toddler, and that he had fallen behind in reading early in his elementary education. But all of that changed when he began participating in The Immokalee Foundation’s Immokalee Readers program. “Now, he comes home and tells me about how he works in a group and how they read together, and he loves to read now,” she said.

That sense of accomplishment keeps the young students excited to come to the program and continue learning through reading. And the tutors feel pride about the difference they’re making. Julissa Montalvo, another Immokalee High School student, said, “I know how important literacy has been to my success, and I love seeing the progress of my students.”

Tutor Osbaldo Vasquez Jr. assists an Immokalee Reader at Eden Park

The Immokalee Foundation provides a range of education programs that focus on building pathways to professional careers through support, mentoring and tutoring, and life skills development leading to economic independence. To learn more about The Immokalee Foundation, volunteering as a career panel speaker or host, becoming a mentor, making a donation, including the foundation in your estate plans, or for additional information, call 239-430-9122 or visit

Noemi Y. Perez, president and CEO of The Immokalee Foundation, can be reached at

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