Dalia Ontiveros reads to her first-grade class at May Roberts School. (The Enterprise/Joe Siess)

ONTARIO – An area elementary school teacher has dedicated herself to increasing literacy among low-income children in Malheur County.

How? By getting books into their hands.

Dalia Ontiveros, a first-grade teacher at May Roberts Elementary School in Ontario, said she has a variety of books in her classroom, and her goal is to instill the joy of reading in her 22 students. 

“I don’t know how many books I have in my classroom. I just give the books away to the kids…when I can,” Ontiveros said. 

“On a yearly basis, I just go through my books and pick out books and send them home with the kids,” she said. 

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As part of her initiative, Ontiveros is seeking donations from the community to help her buy books to stock her classroom. 

In particular, Ontiveros hopes to bring the Magic Tree House book collection to her students. To help Ontiveros and her students, visit her Donors Choose page at donorschoose.org, by searching “Adventures with Jack and Annie.”

Ontiveros said that when she asks her students what they are reading, the typical answers include, titles like Harry Potter, and books from the Percy Jackson collection. 

Books that contain a magical element seem to be attractive to children, Ontiveros said, and that is precisely why she is raising money to buy Magic Tree House books for her class. 

“I like them and the kids like them, and they have the best of both worlds. It has the magic component in it, plus it transports them somewhere else,” Ontiveros said of the Magic Tree House books. “It has the whole fantasy part that gets the student’s attention, but it also has some facts in the story itself. So, they are actually learning parts of history too.” 

The initiative to bring the Magic Tree House books to the elementary school is focused on increasing literacy among low-income children, getting them used to reading chapter books.

Nearly a quarter of the population in Malheur County is considered in poverty and May Roberts Elementary gets federal funding to provide free breakfast and lunch to students. 

Helping improve literacy among low-income children is a daily task for Ontiveros. 

“If you get the kids excited about reading, especially reading, they are going to use it their whole life. The more that they read when they are younger the easier it is for them to process what they are reading. So it helps,” Ontiveros said. 

“I honestly do think they become readers for life,” she said. “They will read anything they can get their hands on.” 

Ontiveros’ project, besides procuring enough books to where there are multiple copies of each, includes engaging students during a literature circle that focuses on reading comprehension and discussion.  

Ontiveros also believes technology detracts from healthy reading habits, but can also help. 

“It is becoming iPad oriented and tablet oriented and there are so many apps that are free,” Ontiveros said. 

So, for Ontiveros, working to expose kids to books and instill reading habits early, is imperative, and beneficial throughout their lives.  

News tip? Contact reporter Joe Siess: news@malheurenterprise.com or 541-473-3377. 

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