Literacy and baseball: A perfect combination

RiverDogs incorporate reading program into their Copa efforts

Frederick Cuevas and Charlie Ruegger of the RiverDogs pose with students at Hanahan Elementary.

By Chanel Zapata / Minor League Baseball | August 19, 2019 10:00 AM

¡Ser un fan! is a content series designed to spotlight and embrace the people, programs, culture and stories that champion Copa de la Diversión community impact and further advance MiLB's continuous efforts to diversify the game and business of baseball.

One of the most important aspects of Minor League Baseball's Copa de la Diversión initiative is the opportunity it provides teams to engage with local communities. There is no doubt that the Perros Santos de Charleston (Charleston RiverDogs) have made the most of the opportunity by connecting with a deserving group of young fans.

The Festival de Lectura -- or Reading Festival -- began as a partnership between the team and the Berkeley School District to organize a joint program encouraging and incentivizing literacy among English-language learners in a fun and interactive way.

"We found out that a lot of children in the Lowcountry region have never attended a baseball game, so we thought, what better way to invite them to Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park than utilizing literacy as a bridge," said Walter Nolan-Cohn, community relations director for the RiverDogs. "The goal of this program is to encourage English learners to improve their skills by reading in both their first language and in English."

Players from the Perros Santos team read to the children at Goose Creek.

The program's inception involved effort from everyone on the RiverDogs' front office staff, particularly Garret Randall and his fiancée who teaches English as a second language. The effort has trickled into the clubhouse: One of the players, Tanner Myatt, now requests that everyone in the clubhouse address him in Spanish so he can learn the language.

During the first year of the program, Festival de Lectura supported 1,000 participants from kindergarten to fifth grade at four elementary schools: College Park Elementary, Goose Creek Elementary, Mt. Holly Elementary and Hanahan Elementary. The club and the school district determined the reading goals for the students. In the seven-week program, which started April 1 and concluded May 24. The celebration for the readers followed on June 8 during a Copa de la Diversión game. The students were awarded tickets to a Perros Santos game, during which they received commemorative gifts and participated in the Field of Dreams program, where the children got to run out on the field with the team.

En Español

One of the most satisfying experiences for Nolan-Cohn was been seeing kids become Perros Santos fans after receiving a visit from the staff to their school. "It is extremely gratifying to know they feel invited to come out to our stadium feel happy and safe and to recognize us after our school visit," he said. At the same time, the Perros Santos also recognize that through the program, kids can find representation of themselves with the players on the field.

So what is next for the Perros Santos and Festival de Lectura? They expect to expand the literacy program to between six and eight schools in the Charleston area, reinforcing their commitment to the Latino community in the Lowcounty.

Eduardo Torrealba entering the field during Perros Santos night.

Chanel Zapata is an associate with Minor League Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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