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Literacy is Student Trustee's Top Desire

Tesoro senior reads to Kinoshita students by day, advises the Capistrano Unified School District's board of trustees by night.

senior Ryan Pallas may be the latest student adviser to the ’s Board of Trustees, but it’s his work with the students at in San Juan Capistrano which animates him the most.

Back when he was a student at , Pallas had a teacher who encouraged students to visit the  to read to the children.

Pallas knew that he would continue the tradition in high school, he said. If there weren’t already a literacy club on campus—and there wasn’t—he would create one.

And he did, Titans for Literacy.

“The summer before my freshman year, I knew I wanted to start a read-aloud program through Titans for Literacy at one of the Title I schools in our district. I wanted to go where my literacy program would have the largest impact,” Pallas said.

He e-mailed several principals with his idea, and Erick Fineberg, then principal at Kinoshita, jumped at the opportunity. In addition to regularly reading to Kinoshita students, the vast majority of whom are underprivileged Hispanic students whose first language is Spanish, he and his clubmates after collected more than 2,500 children’s books for the school and students personally.

“For the kids,” said Kristelle Perez, director of the YMCA at Kinoshita, the high-school student “readers are somebody the kids can look up to. They have nobody in their families who put an importance on reading.”

Pallas and/or his fellow club members show up about once a week to read for 45 minutes or so to two groups of about 35 kids each. He tries to choose simple stories that will appeal to the students. His personal favorite? Author Jonathan London’s line of “Froggy” books. 

Maddie Wolfert, a junior at Capistrano Valley High School, is a member of Titans for Literacy despite the fact she’s not a Titan. She’s known Pallas since preschool.

“He’s always been the nicest guy. He’s always been really funny and helps the community,” she said.

As he sits on the Capistrano Unified Board of Trustees, Pallas said he is constantly thinking of his constituency, the nearly 51,000 students throughout the seven-city district.

“I have to make sure the kids are getting what they need: a good foundation for elementary kids, as they mature through middle school and preparing them for college and life after high schools,” he said.

Pallas cannot attend closed session board meetings. So far, in his first two meetings, he's given his input on the , a new and a new science, technology, engineering and math program in partnership with the National Park Service. 

As he scans through the twice-monthly agenda packets—which can top 400 pages—he looks for items that will directly impact the students, Pallas said.

“I try to think what the majority of the students would say,” he said. “I look for which issues pertain more to students and focus on those.”

Besides sitting on the board and leading his literacy club, Pallas is on his school’s mock trial team, is vice president of the National Honor Society chapter at Tesoro and is a member of the school’s Comedy Sportz team, an improve troupe that goes head-to-head against other schools (think of a more competitive “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”).

He’s applied to at least a dozen universities, among them the most Ivy-est, Duke, Princeton, Harvard and Yale.

“I don’t want to get my hopes up. The acceptance rate is really low. You have to apply to a lot and hope you get into one,” Pallas said. “I want to go to college in a different place. I can see myself living here after college, but I just want a new experience.”

Right now, Pallas is “leaning toward” law school, possibly majoring in political science as an undergraduate.

As for Titans for Literacy, it won’t peter out just because he’s graduating in June.

“I have had so much fun working with the kids at Kinoshita and my brother, Nick, is only a freshman, so Titans for Literacy will continue for several more years there,” he said.

Dan October 07, 2011 at 11:45 AM
Sounds like a great kid.

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