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560,000 adults in San Diego County read at fourth grade level or less

Posted at 4:28 AM, Jan 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-26 12:38:23-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — According to the San Diego Council on Literacy, 560,000 adults in the county read at a fourth grade level or less.

Individuals with limited reading skills will have a hard time finding employment and suffer even more financially. That's why leaders in literacy are trying to encourage children to develop a love for reading before the age of 8, and before it's too late.

Amelia Sandoval is a prime example of how things can spiral out of control without the ability to read.

"I didn't read, not at all," says Sandoval talking about her childhood.

There were problems at home. She was never read to, and school was never a priority. Without reading comprehension, the domino effect was already in motion.

San Diego County Office of Education resources:

"I joined a gang, I hung out, I was on the streets," says Sandoval. "We learned to ditch the cops."

By the time she was 18, Amelia was in the state prison for women in Chowchilla, where she spent five years. Her inability to read was her shame, and a secret she kept to herself.

"Just as good as I was at stealing stuff, I was good at hiding this," says Sandoval wiping away tears. "I had to protect the secret. It was the best secret I kept from everybody."

But experts claim Amelia's path in life is one that's completely avoidable.

"60 percent of low-income children have no books at home," says Jose Cruz.

San Diego County Office of Education resources:

Jose Cruz is the CEO of the San Diego Council on Literacy. He's desperate to get books in the hands of children.

"We're focusing on ages 0 to 8 or 9 because we know that that's the best place for us to make an investment," adds Cruz.

Cruz and the Council on Literacy are encouraging children to read at least 20 minutes a night at home.

And here's an example they like to share. "Student A" who reads just 20 minutes a day will read the equivalent of 1.8 million words in a school year, building an extensive vocabulary. But "Student B" who reads only five minutes a day will have read less than 2 percent of that amount. And "Student C" who only reads a minute a day is severely limited in vocabulary and literacy.

"You just need to read and talk with your kids," says Cherissa Kreider-Beck.

FOR EDUCATORS: California Board of Education's English Language Arts/English Language development framework

Kreider-Beck is the English Language Arts Coordinator with the San Diego County Office of Education. She is unwavering in her claim that literacy starts at home and has recommended book lists. And as a county, we have some work to do when it comes to recent results on our students reading comprehension tests.

"Our county is about 55 percent students exceeded or met standards," says Kreider-Beck. "At the state, we're about 50 percent, so the county outperforms the state a little bit, but those numbers aren't okay. We can't be okay with those results."

"If a child is not reading at grade level by age 8 or 9, the odds of them catching up are 3-1 against them," adds Cruz.

LEARN MORE: California Department of Education's recommended literature list

Never getting that proper start is precisely what happened to Amelia. But it's never too late. With the help of the San Diego Council on Literacy, Amelia has learned to read.

"It's very emotional," says Sandoval, unable to hold back tears. "So, it's made me really happy in life."

Amelia graduated from high school in February and is now studying for her certification test to enter the field of cyber security.

"It's amazing because I always thought I would be in prison," says Sandoval. "I never saw a brighter future. I didn't think I would make it this far. I always thought I would end up dead. Or like I said, forever in prison. I never thought I would find people who cared about me. I never thought I would find a support system like this."