May 3, 2004: Headlines: COS - Jamaica: Service: Awards: Literacy: Register-Pajaronian: Jamaica RPCV Jill Walker's work with RIF literacy program receives national recognition

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Jamaica: Peace Corps Jamaica : The Peace Corps in Jamaica: May 3, 2004: Headlines: COS - Jamaica: Service: Awards: Literacy: Register-Pajaronian: Jamaica RPCV Jill Walker's work with RIF literacy program receives national recognition

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Jamaica RPCV Jill Walker's work with RIF literacy program receives national recognition

Jamaica RPCV Jill Walker's work with RIF literacy program receives national recognition

Jamaica RPCV Jill Walker's work with RIF literacy program receives national recognition

Wild about reading
May 4 2004 12:00AM By



Local teacher's work with RIF receives national recognition

There's a zebra on the loose at Amesti School. A zebra with an award-winning mission: getting kids to read.

Mr. Z the Zebra is the alter ego of reading specialist Jill Walker, who dresses up in a striped suit and a mask she made herself, then visits classrooms to read aloud, promote the Reading Is Fundamental program and encourage children to reach the school goal of reading 1 million pages a year.

The character is the latest in a long list of creative schemes Walker has dreamed up to build literacy among students in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District. In her 26 years with the district, she has dressed up as a clown, a wacky professor, Mother Goose, the Cat in the Hat. She once concocted a machine that spit out books in exchange for recyclable cans. Another time, she hauled in blocks of ice to create an Antarctic effect.

Walker's dedication was recognized on April 19 when a panel of judges from the national Reading Is Fundamental program named her Western Region Volunteer of the Year. She is one of just five people selected from across the nation as this year's honorees.

"It was a huge surprise," Walker said. "I was very shocked - mostly because there are huge RIF projects in some of the inner cities, so usually it's schools in the big cities like LA or something that win it."

RIF is a national nonprofit program dedicated to building literacy by introducing youngsters to the joy of reading, primarily by giving them brand-new books of their own. The program's 450,000 volunteers serve 5.1 million children at 25,000 locations - including 8,670 students in 14 PVUSD schools.

Walker became involved with RIF soon after coming to the Pajaro Valley. In 1978, fresh from a stint as a Peace Corps teacher, she became the Freedom School librarian. The Friends of the Freedom Library had just kicked off the area's first RIF program, and Walker jumped right in.

She has been a dedicated RIF dynamo ever since.

"She certainly is a star among our stars," said Grace-Marie Moore Hackwell, president of the Friends of the Watsonville Public Library, which sponsors the local RIF programs.

Walker has always been passionate about helping kids read. "It's the key to all their other learning," she said. So she relishes the transformation she sees in students on RIF book-giveaway days.

"I see them in a different light, and see how they're really doing," she said. "To see them scurry in and really want to have a book, and to read a book - that's the payoff."

Her enthusiasm is infectious, Amesti office assistant Rosalía Ruíz said. "She is great!" Ruíz gushed. "She makes it look really fun."

Walker has also devoted considerable energy to raising local funds for RIF.

The Pajaro Valley program is now one of the largest in the nation - bigger than the RIF programs in many large cities. It is held up as a model for other communities, and volunteers from other parts of the country periodically stop in to see it in action.

"We're one of the primo programs in the country," said Karen Reader, Friends of the Library's RIF coordinator and a longtime RIF advocate herself. "We've been at it a long time. We have a lot of good experience. We have some really knowledgeable volunteers."

That history of excellence prompted the national RIF office to make a suggestion: Why not nominate a Pajaro Valley volunteer for this year's national awards?

Jill Walker sprang to mind, Reader said.

"She's extremely creative when it comes to organizing the hoopla that goes with the book distribution and the things that we give away with Reading Is Fundamental," she explained. "She's a bundle of energy. She's committed to kids' reading. She's bilingual. She's always committed to getting kids to read in whatever language they choose. And if they learn to read well in something that's fun for them, it doesn't seem to be so hard for them to transition to reading in their second language."

With Walker poised to retire at the end of the school year, a little national recognition seems a particularly fitting tribute to this dedicated woman who has served local schoolchildren for a quarter-century - not only as an RIF advocate but also as a librarian, a classroom teacher and now a reading specialist who supplements classroom work with individualized reading assistance.

Though she loves her job, Walker is anticipating retirement with the same sense of adventure and creativity she has always exhibited. She's eager to pursue another passion: gourd artwork. Her Mr. Z mask won an award earlier this month. Come fall, she hopes to add her nearby art studio to the list of sites in Santa Cruz County's annual Open Studios tour.

Meanwhile, she's also looking forward to the adventure the RIF award involves: an all-expense-paid trip to accept the award in Washington, D.C., in late June.

"I've been to 27 other countries," she said. "But I've never been to Washington, D.C.!"


For more information about Reading Is Fundamental, go online to To donate to the Pajaro Valley RIF program, write to Friends of the Watsonville Public Library, 320 Union St., Watsonville, CA 95076. Checks may be made out to Friends of the Watsonville Library; to be allocated only to RIF, the memo line must be marked "For RIF program."

©Register-Pajaronian 2004

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Story Source: Register-Pajaronian

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Jamaica; Service; Awards; Literacy



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