The James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award

The James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards recognize Californians who are advancing innovative and effective solutions to critical state issues.  Particularly relevant for these challenging economic times, this year’s award recipients demonstrate how we can achieve a more promising future by partnering creatively across sectors, measuring what works, and understanding the value of long-term commitment.  In many cases, these approaches not only yield substantial benefits to the people served, they represent the most effective use of public dollars.

As the largest multi-use foundation focused exclusively on the state of California, The James Irvine Foundation is committed to highlighting and supporting solutions to significant challenges for California’s future.

Luis Santana

Luis Santana arrived in Fresno in 1999, a long way from his childhood home in Brazil. He had a master’s degree in social work from California State University, Sacramento and $20,000 in seed money. He also had a fierce belief — shaped by his work with street kids in Brazil and Colombia — that a child’s path toward a brighter future was paved with books.

Reading and Beyond began with 30 children and a few volunteer tutors in a church meeting room. Now, ten years later, Santana’s organization tutors more than 600 students a day in 16 locations throughout Fresno County. Reading and Beyond assesses each child’s reading abilities and designs an individualized plan to address each child’s specific needs. The child is reassessed every nine weeks, and the plan is adjusted according to progress made. Santana’s work has had remarkable results: On average, 70 percent of children enrolled in the literacy program for at least six months improve at least one grade level in reading. Some have improved by as much as four grade levels in a year.

Still, Santana understood that tutoring wasn’t enough to help children succeed in school. He had to engage the parents in their children’s education. But how? Most of the parents spoke little or no English, had limited education themselves and minimal access to transportation.

Santana decided that if parents couldn’t come to his classroom, he would take his classroom to them.  He secured funding for a recreational vehicle that he outfitted with tables and chairs.  Reading And Beyond parked the RV at supermarkets and apartment complexes, churches and schools - wherever was most convenient for parents.  Santana and his group gave classes and workshops - in the parents’ native languages - about navigating the school system, working with teachers, and creating a home environment conducive to learning.  To date, nearly 17,000 parents have utilized the program.

In addition to the after-school literacy and parent-involvement programs, Santana’s organization now has thriving programs in early childhood education, health education, and college preparation.  Last November, in keeping with its family-centric approach, Reading And Beyond launched its newest venture: a program called College Now, designed to help parents earn a college education and improve their job prospects.

Spanning a child’s life from birth to college, Reading And Beyond provides some of California’s most impoverished children and families with the fundamental tools they need to build productive, self-reliant lives.

For his comprehensive approach and dedication to achieving better educational outcomes for children and youth, Luis Santana is a recipient of a 2009 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award.