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Uniting families through literacy and learning.

Uniting families through literacy and learning: Volunteer honored for work with Redwood City school district
August 01, 2015, 05:00 AM By Samson So Daily Journal

Secundino Zuno and Ninfa Zuno at the ‘We are 500 Strong!' event. At this event, 20 families graduated from the Families United through Literacy and Learning program, which brought the total up to 500 graduated families.

As a humble man, Secundino Zuno laughs when recalling that night.

Serving as a volunteer teacher, Zuno was recently honored by the Redwood City Elementary School District Board of Trustees for his 12 years of devotion to Hoover Elementary School.

While he is proud of this honor, Zuno believes that his students’ success is his biggest achievement.

“The whole school board, the superintendent and all the teachers at Hoover were there and it made me feel like I was going to have a heart attack,” said Zuno. “But, the best part of the day was knowing that I helped the students.”

It’s been a long journey, since his days teaching teenagers at a university in Mexico.

Today, Zuno spends his mornings teaching elementary math.

“I was not used to teaching little kids but when I started coming to classrooms and looking at the kids I was very touched listening to them and the way they responded,” Zuno said.

Zuno’s dedication stems from a desire to better the community in which he works, starting with the youth.

“These kids are from a low-income community. Sometimes they don’t have the values right away and I want to makes sure they feel important. They need to start changing their habits and routine.”

Zuno believes those values are what develop into the bigger goals that can lead to success for students.

“I like talking to the kids about their goals. In third-grade, I want them to dream big,” Zuno said. “I always make sure they have the keys to be successful and I want them to have in their mind to have a college degree, even though they are young.”

Although stimulating their growth at a young age is important, Zuno’s actions show that maintaining relationships with students is just as vital.

Zuno’s wife, Ninfa, a third-grade bilingual teacher at Hoover Elementary School, describes the effect of Zuno’s teachings on the community’s youth.

“When my husband is working in the halls, he usually has contact with previous students that we’ve had before. My husband always asks them what high school or college they will go to, what they’re considering for careers and what they really like to do,” said Ninfa. “Once the students know he is coming, they make sure to have something to tell him.”

The bond that Zuno and his students have, he said, is based on the trust and respect taught in his classes.

“In my 18 years volunteering in the community, I have been donating a new bike to a student who has been really trying hard and has shown a lot of effort. The students all decide and vote who deserves the bike because they have shown effort and respect in their study skills.”

Zuno recalls a particular instance when a boy in his third-grade class was being picked on by other classmates because they didn’t understand why he looked different.

“I had a student who had to get chemotherapy and I was really touched by all this kid was going through. The kids were laughing at him and I had to teach them the difference of right and wrong and the struggle he was going through.” 

At the end of the year, all the students voted to donate the bike to him, not just because he was always doing the homework and working hard, but because Zuno had taught them to value of determination and persistence.

Zuno’s contribution to the community doesn’t stop at students.

Secundino and Ninfa, also teach a nine-week evening workshop called Families United through Literacy and Learning (Familias Unidas), which teaches parents how to foster, get involved with and be a part of their child’s academic success.

“Parents are part of the equation to help them stay in school,” said Zuno. “For nine years, the program has helped over 500 families.”  

Held at Taft Elementary School and Hoover Community School from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., the Zunos’ night program includes several activities for families that develop reading comprehension, math and science skills, language arts and overall homework study skills.

Dennis McBride, president of the Redwood City Elementary School District board, praised both Secundino and Ninfa Zuno for their commitment to lower income families in Redwood City.

“These people are doing an amazing job to get kids to improve and to learn what to do for their future,” McBride said. “Mr. Zuno shows up with a smile on his face every day for his kids. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for them.”

 Zuno describes his favorite thing about working among students who he “considers his children.”

“I’m very thankful that they let me be a part of them learning because it’s something I love to do,” he said.

To learn more about Families United through Literacy and Learning (Familias Unidas) visit