Shortly before the event she had scheduled at the Martin Luther King Community Center in Hollywood, Fla., was about to begin, Eileen Santiago wanted to make sure she left no stone unturned. The Broward College professor grabbed one of her undergraduate students by the arm and hurriedly set out to promote for one last time the virtues of Free Comic Book Day, a national event she planned to piggyback on to get local kids excited about reading.

Up and down N. 24th Avenue they drove, pulling down the car window to tell residents about a chance to take home a free comic book, watch a Spiderman movie and munch on some cookies and snacks. Standing outside her home a block away from the community center, Patricia Travis was thrilled when the silver Toyota scion pulled up to her yard.

Free Comic Book Day“We hardly ever get to go to the movies,” said Travis, who was doing what she normally does on a Saturday afternoon, watching her eight grandchildren. “This was perfect. We would have been just sitting home. I can’t afford to take my grandchildren to the movies, not this many of them.”

This type of out-out-side of the box programming designed to break down barriers to education in communities with limited incomes is what Broward College President Gregory Haile envisioned when he established Broward UP™. The UP meaning “unlimited potential” — is for Broward College ambassadors to go directly into neglected neighborhoods to develop grass-roots partnerships that, in the end, improve the quality of life for residents in zip codes where little exposure to postsecondary opportunities has existed. For Santiago and her student teachers, their strategy centered around comic books. 

“We had to bring something different to the table to promote literacy,” said Santiago. “Something like a comic book is fun. It’s the best feeling in the world to know at least when they leave this event, these kids are going to go home with a book to read.”

Agents for Change

And her undergrads in the Teacher Education pathway at Broward College who served as ambassadors as well, learned of both the personal and professional rewards from developing “fun things” to engage and identify kids struggling with reading comprehension while, at the same time, energizing the community to assist children who most need their support. 

Alyssa Fino was happy to be an agent for change. As a student teacher, she had spent the past few years fine-tuning her skills at Nova Eisenhower Elementary in Davie and McArthur High School in Hollywood. The 26-year-old would be graduating in a few days from Broward College with a bachelor’s degree in exceptional student education. But instead of getting her nails done for the commencement ceremony, she was giving kids at comic book day the one-on-one help with reading that they are often not afforded in regular classroom settings.

“As I enter education, I recognize that it’s so important to get students more interested in reading,” said Fino. “Some students can’t get the help they need. They may have a cognitive disability that prevents them from keeping up, or teachers may be too busy in a classroom of 25-30 students to determine who needs help.” 

‘Something Called College’

Professor Santiago is devoted to changing that narrative and wants her students to follow her lead. She grew up in a poor neighborhood in Miami and was unaware of college until her second year in high school. From her initial exposure, she went on to earn a degree in teacher education at Broward College and a master’s from Nova Southeastern University.

“All along I never knew about college,” she said. “My goal is to teach my students to teach their students that, no matter where they are, there’s something called college to continue your education.”

For Santiago and her Broward College students, that outreach began by connecting with students like Latoya, a 12-year-old at Attucks Middle School student who found herself reading comic books instead of shooting baskets at the community center.

“I liked the comic books,” said Latoya, who hopes to be a teacher herself someday. “They had more action and drama than the regular books I’m used to and a lot of different words that I could learn.”

If you are dedicated to promoting opportunity and pushing residents of Broward County to achieve their highest potential, Broward UP™ is a county-wide movement for you to get behind. Here’s how you can partner.