DELTA -- A tiny Utah school district has figured out a way to bring Hispanic students up to par on reading scores: put older students to work as reading mentors in elementary school.
The approach being taken at schools in rural Delta means more personal attention for Latino students who need extra help reading, said Millard School District Assistant Superintendent Scott Bassett.
The mentors take pride in their work, too.
"I feel like I am a hero in a way," Oscar Gonzalez told the Deseret News. "Some of them have the biggest smile when they see me. It's just interacting with them that makes my day."
Officials say the Latinos in Action program is narrowing the reading gap between Hispanics and white students. It also has helped raise the graduation rate of older Hispanic students.
Gonzalez said helping other students has given him a greater sense of purpose and raised his own GPA.
Another mentor with ambitions is high school senior Danielle Hordato.
"I plan on going on to UVU and becoming a nutritionist and get a bachelor's degree," she said.
Delta has faced the same problems as many schools: Hispanic reading scores lagged by half of their Caucasian peers, while only 10 percent of Hispanic seniors graduated from high school.
Teachers got together to figure out what they could do to close the gap and decided to deploy student mentors, said Delta Elementary School Principal David Noah.
High school and junior high students are helping out.
The transformation that's taking place goes beyond the classroom. It's helping unite a community following the shooting death of Millard County Sheriff's Deputy Josie Fox.
Fox was shot Jan. 5 when she stopped a burglary suspect near Delta. Family members of the deputy and the shooter attended the same school.
"It's been a very difficult thing, and there have been some feelings and we're still healing," Bassett said.
The reading program has helped because schools were already making inroads in closing the achievement gap and helping community members feel part of a common cause, he said.