WATSONVILLE — Around 10:30 in the morning Friday, the students of Starlight Elementary School gathered together on the school’s blacktop to begin preparing for a day full of reading.

The event, “Un Libro a Vez/One Book at a Time,” is now in its third year. Formerly known as “Read Across the Globe,” a worldwide event led by the Points of Light Foundation, the local community has attempted to make it their own, involving local volunteers and high school students.

YouthServe, a program run by the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County and Watsonville High School’s ECHO Academy, teamed up to bring local teens to read out loud to Starlight Elementary students. In total, more than 800 people were involved in Friday’s event.

“We’ve had a great turnout this year,” said Dawn Krenz, a teacher at ECHO Academy. “I’d say about 99 percent of youth who originally signed up are here. It’s amazing.”

Friday’s “Un Libro a Vez/One Book at a Time” began with a large rally, where the teens and adults spoke to the children as a group about the importance of reading. ECHO Academy students told them about their experiences in school and why they think learning to read and write proficiently can help them in the future.

Krenz explained why she thought it was important for the children to see teens from their own community promoting education.

“They are being given a role model — someone who they can see themselves becoming,” she said. “Every study says that if you have people from your own background modeling something, you’ll be much more interested and engaged in it.”

Some of the ECHO Academy students even attended Starlight Elementary when they were younger, adding to that familiarity, Krenz said.

After the rally the Starlight students dispersed into their classes and then into smaller groups. Each group was paired with one of the teens before settling in for the first round of reading. Activities were planned to run till around 1 p.m.

Krenz pointed out how this event can also help the high schoolers learn responsibility and to engage with other age groups.

“It gets them out of their comfort zone,” she said, “while also showing them how rewarding working with children can be.”

Another individual on hand at the event was Starlight aide and after-school program teacher Mariah Gutierrez. A former member of ECHO Academy herself who went through the academy’s internship program, Gutierrez was inspired to work in education by experiencing similar events such as “Un Libro a Vez/One Book at a Time.”

“I’ve met kids here who obviously weren’t into school,” Gutierrez said. “But then these teens from their community come in and promote it, which gets them interested. That connection is so important.”

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