Literacy Hero Award 2017 Lesley Fontanilla

Lesley Fontanilla, recipient of the 2017 Literacy Hero Award
Each and every day, ordinary people do extraordinary things to promote literacy in our communities. With these awards, we celebrate the selfless acts of three regional heroes who champion the cause of literacy in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties

Lesley Fontanilla was born and raised in Stockton. College took her away for a few years, but Stockton was, and will always be, Lesley’s home.

Growing up, Lesley was an avid reader, which she attributes to her family. “My brothers and I developed a love of reading mostly from our mom, who has been a library card-carrying patron for the majority of her life!” says Lesley. “My dad, too, was a reader. He kept a set of Encyclopedia Britannica in our family room for himself, but he shared them with us. As we got older he bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias for us kids. I spent many happy afternoons exploring those books, just for the fun of it!”

Going to the Stockton Public Library was a weekly event for her family. “We participated in the library’s Summer Reading Program every year. When the Bookmobile was parked in our neighborhood, we were there!” she remembers. “I knew every nook and cranny of that library; it was one of my happy places! I would find an author that I liked at the library and I would read all of his/her work… I still read that way!” With these happy memories to look back upon, it is no surprise that Lesley became a teacher and an advocate for literacy.

Since 1990, Lesley has been an educator with Manteca Unified School District. Between stints as an elementary classroom teacher, she has served in various leadership roles. As a Staff Development Leader and Literacy Trainer, Lesley worked with a team of teachers to develop and create effective, research-based staff development for 4th-6th grade teachers throughout the district. As a Reading & Academic Coach at French Camp Elementary School, Lesley was part of a team that was charged with improving that school’s state testing scores, which, during 2 years of intensive and challenging work, the staff and students successfully achieved! Currently working as the Program Coordinator for French Camp School, Lesley works with administrators and teachers to provide guidance and support in classroom instruction; she analyzes assessment data to find information that can help promote growth; she provides teacher and student support in the area of English Language Development; and she coordinates and supports interventions to promote success for all students.

Lesley loves her work. “Teaching is the greatest act of optimism,” she quips, quoting educator Colleen Wilcox, adding, “As a teacher, you just can’t resist the ‘light bulb moments’ – those very special moments when your students make the connection, understand something for the first time, or swell with pride from an achievement.”

Lesley spends many evenings, weekends, and vacation periods working as an advocate for effective instructional practices for teachers. She has been a Professional Development Presenter for “Pathways to Literacy,” the nation’s oldest professional development conference for educators. From 1997-2000, Lesley served as director of the California Reading & Literature Project at CSU Stanislaus, leading a team that offered in-depth professional development to teachers throughout Stanislaus, Calaveras, and San Joaquin Counties. Lesley also works part-time as an adjunct faculty member in the department of Teacher Education at CSU Stanislaus.

Despite her busy schedule, Lesley finds time for volunteer work, working to support programs and opportunities for readers of all ages in her community. She started her volunteer work at the Stockton-San Joaquin Library as a volunteer tutor for the Adult Literacy Program, working one-on-one with adults who could not read. In 2008, Lesley joined the Board of Directors of the Library and Literacy Foundation for San Joaquin County, a non-profit organization tasked with overseeing and managing an endowment to support and enhance library services in the City of Stockton. From 2010-2014, Lesley served as President of the Board of Directors for the Foundation; doubling as chairperson of the Foundation’s annual fundraising event – The Trivia Bee. Although she left the Board of Directors in 2014, she remains active in the Foundation, continuing to serve as co-chair of the Trivia Bee, ensuring that the Foundation has the funds needed to promote literacy programs and events throughout San Joaquin County. In addition, Lesley is a driving force behind another annual literacy event; she plays a large part in acquiring the children’s books that the Foundation hands out to children who visit the Library and Literacy Foundation booth at Family Day in the Park. Over the years, the Foundation has handed out thousands of free books to children at this event.

When asked why she invests so much of her time to literacy programs, Lesley shares a favorite quote from Oscar Wilde: “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines who you will be when you can’t help it.” She explains further: “The ability to read and write are the keys that open all the doors. And those doors are everywhere – school, work, community, life! That is why having a literate society is so important!”

At her school, in her hometown, and throughout the region, Lesley Fontanilla has spent her adult life working to bring literacy to the forefront. She truly believes that helping students to become readers and writers, helping teachers to become better teachers of literacy, and supporting community programs that advocate for a literate society are essential factors in creating a world that is hopeful, caring, and united.