Literacy and life lessons: Y Reads boosts young students' potential


Hoots and hollers might sometimes be discouraged in school classrooms, but this time they were entirely justified.

At Manatee Elementary School recently, second grade students were encouraged to do just that during a visit by author Dolores Burton.

Burton was a guest presenter during a session of Y Reads, a long-running program presented by the Greater Marco Family YMCA aimed at increasing literacy in lesser-privileged East Naples areas.

Using her allegorical book, “But You Don't Look Like Me,” Burton blended its written components with its philosophy, and the kids were simply fascinated for nearly two hours.

The book outlines the story of Owlivia, a barn owl who wants to befriend some burrowing owls.

They reject her because she looks different, but later change their attitudes when she saves a baby burrowing owl from being snatched by a foraging hawk.

Y Reads is just one of the Y's multiple outreach programs that benefits the children (and parents) of some of the poorer neighborhoods in East Naples.

The premise is that if a child doesn’t read at an accepted level by third to fourth grade, the chances of failure at school – and life – go up significantly.

Fortifying the book's message, Burton asked the group of young students to give examples of acts of kindness that go beyond looks.

Answers included "when somebody treats you like you would treat them," and opening a door for somebody.

Also alluding to her book's premise, Burton asked the group for things people might not know simply by looking at someone.

Responses included not knowing people's ages, their birthdays and, most aptly, one child reaffirming the old adage of not judging a book by its cover.

To wrap up the session, the children donned owl masks and enjoyed an "owl parade" around the classroom, complete with high-pitched hoots.

On hand, along with a group of volunteer adult mentors committed the Y Reads program was coordinator Esta Alliker, who originally linked with Burton through sharing the same Marco hairdresser.

She said Y Reads program techniques include books, lesson plans, phonics and “literature circles” talking about text, as well as poetry, while many of the reading programs mesh with those of the children’s school programs.

Locally, many parents are unable to give English reading or help because of their own limitations in the language, Alliker said.

“And, most don’t often have the time.”

Burton, a PhD, worked nationally and internationally as a Fulbright Scholar to improve teaching and learning for all students.

She has published in educational journals and has presented her research at numerous venues across the globe. Her writing reflects her passion to help students and teachers succeed.

Besides three illustrated books using owls as central characters, Burton most recently published a middle-grade chapter book, A Story of Courage: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
All books are available on and at

To learn more about volunteering for YReads, as well as the Y's wide variety of programs and activities for adults and children, visit or call 394-YMCA (9622). Follow on Twitter at ymcamarco; on Facebook @marcoymca, and Instagram at ymcamarco.