A Land Developer’s New Frontier: The Mind

Progress is often a funciton of flexibility. At first, the idea was to help improve test scores of schoolchildren. The thinking was that higher test scores at local schools could attract higher income workers and their families to live in the San Bernardino area. But as CSUSB administrators proposed creating a literacy institute to help students with reading problems, something clicked in Jim Watson.

“I was a very poor reader when I was in the fourth grade,” said Watson, president of Watson & Associates in Seal Beach. “I was put in a special class with a wonderful teacher who inspired me and taught me how to read. That one class, which lasted about a semester, was probably the most significant class I ever took. It affected my life all the way through college and helped me to become a success.”

Watson’s work with CSUSB and local school officials has spawned the initial $100,000 grant from his company. With the funds, the university will launch a new literacy institute on campus to help the area’s K-12 schoolchildren. “We try to do a lot within the community and education is really important to this community,” Watson said. “If we help build up education then we’ll be able to reach a lot of people. This is very exciting for us.”

CSUSB President Albert Karnig said the institute would target one of the major problems affecting society — illiteracy. “If you look at what enhances the likelihood of success in life, the most vital skill is the ability to read,” Karnig said. “With generous funding from Jim Watson, we have a remarkable opportunity to help schoolchildren become better students, as well as ultimately more productive citizens who have fuller and more informed lives.”

The new institute is designed to help children meet their lifelong literacy needs with specially developed programs to improve and enhance their reading abilities, said Patricia Arlin, dean of the College of Education, which will oversee the institute.

Charles Diamond, an associate vice president with Watson & Associates, said the company believes it is important for business to be active participants in their communities. “We saw the need not only for the local community, but for the students,” he said. “You’ve got to give back to your community to be a good neighbor.” “Besides the $100,000 grant, the company will also offer $50,000 for the university to obtain matching funds,” said Ronna Kivisto, the college’s development officer.

The institute will be directed and administered by the College of Education’s language, literacy and culture department. Graduate students working on their reading specialist credentials will staff the institute under the supervision of faculty. Mary Jo Skillings, the institute’s director, said the institute will focus on tutoring primary schoolchildren at risk of failing. “We want to help them continue their education. Education success will keep children in school longer and help them meet the challenges of getting into college.” But the institute will also work with children’s parents who themselves have literacy problems, specifically those parents whose native language isn’t English. “Lots of parents use their children as their interpreters. Now this is an opportunity for the parents to do the same. Parents will have an opportunity to learn English reading skills here at the institute,” Skillings said.

Research has shown that students who receive focused instruction in reading post high general literacy scores even over a short period of time, Arlin said, adding that the graduate students will themselves benefit from working at the institute because it will be a good training ground. “Our graduate students will receive clinical experience in reading development by working with these children.