The History of Dorbooks (Conclusion: Part 3)

Recently we began a three-part series on the history of Dorbooks. Here now is Part 3, completing the series. It relates how Phonics Pathways was first used in what evolved into a major national tutoring program, as well as a short example of “what goes around, comes around!”


It all began in 1997, when Mary Shaw and Dolores Hiskes first met at the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association in Marin. Mary was concerned over the rising crime rate in East Palo Alto and Dolores had recently finished Phonics Pathways. 

They decided to combine forces and do something about the rampant literacy problem.. “What good is the internet if you can’t read?” Mary asked. “The key is reading—all else flows from that.” She applied for a grant to begin a reading tutoring program. Here is an edited version of what Mary wrote:

“In the shadow of prosperous Palo Alto, California and Stanford University lies East Palo Alto, a small city of primarily Blacks, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders, many of whom live on marginal incomes. The 190 Census lists the city’s population as more than 5 percent Tongan, Fijian, and Samoan. In 1997 this estimate is 10 percent and growing. Because community resources are few for these families, teenagers spend their time hanging out on the streets where drug sales, drug use, delinquency and violence are social norms.


“To ensure the program’s long term survival, Dee founded Pacific Islander Outreach, Inc. (PIO), a non-profit organization dedicated to changing the life circumstances of these disenfranchised young people.

“To get these young people off the streets “Mama Dee” Uhila, a Samoan, opened her home in 1993 to any student from East Palo Alto. Every day and on weekends Mamma Dee cooked a meal and provided homework assistance for youngsters who soon occupied every room in her small house. Many were gang members and already in and out of Juvenile Hall for drug related offenses and minor crimes. Dee would often see these kids on the street until two or three o’clock in the morning. Most of these students are habitual truants who, even when attending classes, are in-school dropouts. It became very apparent in the home study houses that a frequent cause of these students’ poor academic performance and disruptive behavior was their lack of basic reading skills.


“To address this critical need, PIO created a Reading and Advocacy Program in the fall of 1996. The goal was to prove a safe, welcoming environment in which to learn, to learn to read, to study, and to do homework–and to do this in a place where the youngsters were willing to go. The program operated out of the “Friendly Place Restaurant” two afternoons a week.

“The Reading and Advocacy Program depends on the recruitment, training, and supervision of adult volunteers from surrounding communities. They attend a two hour training session conducted by Dolores G. Hiskes, whose text Phonics Pathways is the instructional material of choice. Dolores coached the PIO in setting up the program and contributed many of her ancillary educational materials. A $6,500 grant from the Charter Oak Foundation provided seed money. Staffing consists of a part-time program coordinator, a part-time volunteer coordinator, and a corps of fifteen community volunteers. Students are tutored one-on-one in bi-weekly, half hour sessions, and along with the dedication of volunteer tutors has resulted in significant improvement of reading scores in the Ravenswood City School District.”

And so a tutoring program was born!

Mary continued, “The growth of the program has surprised everyone. Many students are wait-listed. Tutors, parents, and students alike are very enthusiastic about the program. Another tutor donated $25,000 to ensure that the lease would be paid at the restaurant where the tutoring takes place.

“And the Stanford University Athletic Department recently donated thirty surplus tables and eighty chairs so that the program would have appropriate furniture for one-on-one tutoring.”


Mary approached Jean Bacigalupi who was on the Board of YES (Youth Empowering Systems) a national nonprofit group that works on youth and education issues, requesting they sponsor the tutoring program. YES said yes!

Ms. Bacigalupi, who has volunteered her time and effort to many causes in her life, recalls how she became involved as a tutor. “At one point, I told Mary, I’m tired of sitting on boards–I want to work with kids!”

In 1999, in partnership with the school district and the Menlo Park Public Library System Mary, Jean, and tutor Molly McCrory created a state-of-the-art YES Reading Center at the Belle Haven Community Library, which serves both the school and the community. In 2001 it was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) under the name of YES Reading. And the YES Reading Center was born! Starting with just three volunteers working in the school library, the organization quickly grew to serve more than 100 children at Belle Haven. One enthusiastic tutor gathered statistics on its success, and found that while Sylvan Learning Center improved reading ONE grade level per year, YES Reading Center improved reading TWO grade levels per year–and for far less money!

The location soon changed. Stanford University recently donated a double-size portable classroom to the Belle Haven campus, which was renovated by the University Rotary Club of Palo Alto. Molly McCrory put her formidable decorating skills to good use making it warm, attractive, and inviting to students and tutors alike. Molly enthusiastically commented, “One visit to a tutoring session would be enough to convince others to sign up. They’d be hooked. It’s a way to change the life of a child.”

And so the YES Reading Center grew and grew!

Mary wrote, “Parents say it is heartwarming to see their children progress from non-readers to eager readers who want to do their homework. Some of the children have shared that they are doing better in school already. The minister of a local church, whose daughter is in the program, suggested we start a similar program for adults–“so that my people can get a job and get off welfare.” A Samoan mother, observing the volunteer tutors, best expressed the feelings of so many of the involved East Palo Alto families.

“She quietly remarked, “God has blessed our children!”

“(signed) Mary Wright Shaw, Board Member, YES Reading Project, Youth Empowering Systems, Menlo Park, CA”


YES Reading Center began replicating to nearby Title I elementary schools. in 2008 the name YES Reading Center was changed to Reading Partners. A whole new team of financial supporters, managers, recruiters, and marketers were brought on board, and as a result, Reading Partners has exploded to serve more than 7,000 students in schools throughout California, Colorado, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington D.C. Very impressive indeed!

Different materials were added to the curriculum, which resulted in 1.5 to 2 months of growth per year in literacy for Reading Partners students.

While falling short of the results when Phonics Pathways was used (YES Reading improved reading comprehension two grade levels per year) this growth is nonetheless exciting.

And to think it all began with just one little book!


In the beginning of this series I mentioned how I first taught our own two children how to read. Now they are grown, with two children of their own. And guess what? Our grandson came home from first grade needing help with reading! I was told they do teach phonics, but one of the words in his little first-grade reader was “neighborhood.” (Welllllllll..if you think that’s phonics, then I have a nice bridge I’d like to sell you…)

So I rolled up my sleeves and went to work teaching him, and he learned how to read in no time at all. I would chase him into his seat with a big, furry, fake fly, which periodically “buzzed” around him to keep him in line. And always with him and every student I’ve ever tutored, at the end of every lesson I would read a chapter from “James And The Giant Peach.” I also did a magic egg trick, and promised to tell him the secret when he finished the book. And so he did, and so I did! He is now 20 years old majoring in economics at college.

Realizing that things haven’t changed much, I decided to teach his younger sister how to read before she went to kindergarten. Our granddaughter was feistier and said she already knew how to read, so I had her teach her stuffed animals (with a little help from her grandmother–ahem!). Every time she finished a little booklet she made Grandfather sing the song on the back cover. His singing voice is even worse than mine, so she rolled on the floor laughing and so did I! She is now 18, and a theater arts/communication major at college.

What a wonderful world this is, and what a wonderful life I’ve had. Sure, we’ve had a few health issues over the years, some more serious than others. But I have miles to go before I sleep–miles to go before I sleep.

       “A crimson autumn leaf am I,
        Golden, dancing, glowing bright.
        Not yet my time to drop!”

Warm hugs to all of you. May the Spirit of Christmas be with you now and throughout the coming year, and ever afterword.

        Blessings, Dolores


Comments are closed.