Back to School: Ready to Read?

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Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson

For many students in District 30, the first few weeks of school are met with much enthusiasm and high expectations to succeed in the class room setting. While students are prepared physically to go to school, many students are not prepared on a reading level. Nationwide, 34 percent of children in kindergarten lack the basic language skills needed to learn how to read; in fourth grade, 65 percent of children are reading below grade level; and only 37 percent of high schoolers graduate at or above reading proficiency.

The American Academy of Pediatrics announced in 2014 that it recommended that parents read aloud to infants from birth, noting that a vital part of brain development occurs within the first three years of a child’s life. Reading to children from birth to age three will enhance vocabulary and communication skills.

Unfortunately, an income gap exists within child literacy. By age three, children of higher-income parents have an advantage over children of lower-income parents because they have heard more words at home. About 60 percent of children from families with incomes over 400 percent of the federal poverty level are read to daily while only one third of children from families with incomes below the federal poverty line are read to daily. According to Reading is Fundamental, two out of three children living in poverty have no books to call their own.

Having few to no books in the home is a clear disadvantage when entering school. This hinders a child’s ability to prepare for school and stay on track. One of the programs I helped spearhead, the Innovative Approaches to Literacy, which is now part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, help to bring different partnerships together to promote student literacy from birth through high school. The Innovative Approaches to Literacy program awards grants to nonprofit organizations and school districts like the grant awarded to the Texas Can Academies in Dallas and Fort Worth, which distributes free books and provide collaborations between local librarians and classroom teachers.

While programs like Innovative Approaches to Literacy are valuable in the Dallas community, Texas, and across the nation, we must also take matters into our own hands. Parental engagement is key in any child’s development. There are many public libraries throughout district 30 that provide tools, workshops and resources for parents and children to improve their literacy and ease accessibility to reading materials. Any parent can hand their child a phone or tablet, but reading aloud and maintaining that connection to your child is vital to their development and their readiness for education.