April 18, 2023
LANCASTER, Texas -- A group of Toyota volunteers ventured to Houston Elementary School early on a Wednesday morning, dressed in their signature red shirts and bright smiles, ready to spend some time reading to first and second-grade students.
Lancaster ISD partners with Toyota to bring the Toyota Leadership Academy to students and provide access to opportunities and resources. The company has donated time and money to the district's bilingual education program and enjoys volunteering in Lancaster ISD.
During their visit to the campus, volunteers would spend the morning reading "The Shark That Taught Me English" by Michelle Markel. The story, written in English and Spanish, allowed volunteers to connect with students by reading in both languages.
"I love when guests come to our class and read to us," said second-grader Carmen Jimenez. "I really liked the story and that they read the book in both languages because not everyone in my class knows English yet."
Ofelia Vazquez, Lancaster ISD Bilingual Social Emotional Counselor & Community Liaison, says it's vital for the students to meet other bilingual adults who work in different industries.
"The students can see that there are other opportunities for bilingual people outside of education," said Vazquez. "They can build relationships and experience the benefits of adults with diverse backgrounds coming to interact and spend time with them."
In addition to story time, the volunteers helped the students create paper sharks and played fun and engaging games.
"When we started the relationship with Lancaster ISD several years ago, we hoped to impact communities of color positively," said Javier Moreno, Toyota North America Chief of Staff. "The focus has been mostly on schools with high populations of black and brown students. With Latino Engagement Reading Day at Houston Elementary, we saw an opportunity to reach out to the Hispanic community and leverage the skills of our bilingual team members and employees at Toyota."
Moreno says the Toyota Leadership Academy partnership with the district is expanding beyond career readiness.
"We want to connect with the students while they're in elementary school," said Moreno. "Our partnership will continue to strengthen, and we'll be able to identify other ways to impact the students beyond reading. There will be additional opportunities for us to strengthen and grow the relationship in other areas, whether it be retention in school or other social services that we can provide to their families to ensure that the students come to school prepared to learn."
Vazquez says this was an excellent opportunity for the students, and she is looking forward to future engagement events with Toyota.