Standing on its end, the ceremonial check for $10,000 made out to Short Avenue Elementary School stands as tall as 5-year-old Luna Vargas.
Thanks to the outsize accomplishment by the pint-size youngster – who with her parents read more than 100 minutes a week as part of the District’s Summer Reading Challenge – the campus qualified for a random drawing for a $10,000 library upgrade. With Luna’s name picked as the winning entry, the tiny Title I school, tucked between Venice and Culver City, will be able to fill some of the five dozen empty library shelves with new children’s classics, reference books and learning resources.
“I look forward to discovering effective ways to encourage a love of reading in all of our children,” said Principal Karen Reynolds.
During a joyful celebration on Friday on the playground, the school’s 330 students cheered Luna and the 15 other Short Avenue students who took up the Summer Reading Challenge. Each youngster who participated gave the school another chance to win the random drawing.
Acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian praised Reynolds and library aide Alicia Casilli for motivating so many students to participate in the challenge, and she thanked teachers and parents for their support.
“I’d like to encourage every student to keep reading on a regular basis,” Ekchian said. “There are so many places on your campus that you have already designated as special reading places. You’ve made reading a priority.”
Local District West Superintendent Cheryl Hildreth noted that L.A. Unified’s focus on college readiness starts with literacy for its youngest learners.
“We know there is hope for the future because our littlest readers understand and believe in the beauty of reading and the beauty of holding a book and turning the pages,” Hildreth said. “It’s a magical experience.”
Not yet in kindergarten, young Luna proudly announced that she is “about to read” and has already finished five of the “Bob Books” for beginning readers.
“We read together in the morning and at night, and have just made it part of our daily routine,” said Luna’s mother, Monica Vargas.
She said she had her husband, Michael, were grateful for the opportunity to participate with their daughter in the Summer Reading Challenge.
“We knew that the school needed help with its library, and so we were so excited when we learned that Luna’s name had been picked,” Monica Vargas said. “To be able to be part of making a lasting contribution – it’s just amazing.”
For winning the challenge, Short Avenue students were also treated to a visit by novelist Amy Ephron, who donated autographed copies of her first children’s book, A Castle in the Mist, to the school’s 16 challenge winners.
“Your library is going to be completely amazing,” said Ephron, whose book combines reality and imagination. “I love the (garden) where all of you go to read. And the fact that you’re already reading in TK and K is also completely and totally amazing. You should all be unbelievably proud of yourselves.”
Ephron also met with Short Avenue’s fifth- and sixth-graders, talking to them about her book, reading a short excerpt, and then answering their questions about her life and career. The youngest of four daughters raised in a literary family, Ephron said was inspired by her parents and began writing poetry as a child. And, despite holding other jobs along the way, she seemed destined to be a writer.
“I’ve always had a crazy curiosity about things,” she said.
Ephron also took time to autograph copies of her book for each of the older children, chatting with some of the kids about the meaning of their name or offering up her hand for a “pinky swear,” the sign of support demonstrated by the characters in Castle in the Mist.
And after inscribing each book with the child’s first name and her own autograph, Ephron neatly printed a message on the title page: “Believe in magic.”