When Mayra Salvador, a student at Evergreen Valley College, was considering changing her major from civil engineering to sociology, she found good, supportive advice from members of her book group—a group started by Jill Goodman Gould, senior lecturer in English at Santa Clara University.
When Gould pioneered the group, called The Chelsea Literary Society, in 2006, she hoped it would provide this sort of mentoring in addition to literary discussions. The group grew out of a class Gould taught at Downtown College Preparatory High School, the first charter school in San Jose. A number of Santa Clara students who helped with the class wanted to stay in touch with the students.
The high school students they worked with “didn’t read a lot in English and hadn’t had a lot of experience with books,” Gould said. So she formed a book club and started by reading The Kite Runner by author Khaled Hosseini, an SCU alumnus.
“The Kite Runner was such a big hit in the mainstream, it was nice for the girls and for us to be able to be part of that,” said Claudia Vásquez, who graduated from Santa Clara in 2000 and is now finance controller for Bill Gould Design, an architecture firm.
Salvador, who graduated from Downtown College Prep in 2007, was one of the original book club members—and remains a member today.
Today the group includes current and former students from both Santa Clara and Downtown College Prep. In addition to monthly book discussions—for which they take turns choosing books, bringing food and preparing background reports on the books—the group occasionally goes to author lectures (they heard Hosseini speak), plays and movies.
“We’re really trying to expose them to as much as possible, letting them know that there’s this world out there,” Vásquez said.
Gould has seen the participants grow—and not only in their ability to read and analyze books. “I think the students who have been coming are more aware of literature,” she said.
Vásquez, who is a first-generation college graduate, said she hopes being part of the book discussions will help the high school students learn to be comfortable in new situations. “You always think you’re the only outsider,” she said, but books open up a world of other experiences, including those of other people who have felt like outsiders in other situations.
Salvador said being part of the group has changed her reading habits: “Now I read on my own time, instead of watching TV.”
But she also likes the social support she gets from the group: “Most of the ladies that are in it either already graduated from college or are in college,” she said. “If I need help I know that they’re able to help me."