Houston ‘literacy crisis’ spurs call for 1,500 volunteers

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Houston educators are looking for 1,500 volunteers to join Innovations for Learning and other organizations to battle what they’re calling a “literacy crisis” in the nation’s fourth-largest city.

The Houston Independent School District is asking citizens to give 30 to 60 minutes a week to mentor a child in person or over the Internet in more than 50 schools “where children are desperately in need of an adult to read to them, to listen to them read, and to reinforce the progress their teachers will start in the classroom.”

“Houston is in a literacy crisis,” the district says, “and it will take everyone – schools, families, community — to help provide this basic skill that can make the difference between lifelong learning and achievement or frustration and failure.”

In 15 of the schools, volunteers will connect with students over the Internet through IFL’s TutorMate program. In 40 other schools, mentors will work with children in person. Both volunteer opportunities are part of the district’s Read Houston Read program.

It’s all part of an ambitious drive called Literacy By 3. The aim: To have children reading at grade level by third grade and help older children catch up on their reading skills. Superintendent Terry Grier calls it “a very important — if not the most important — initiative since I’ve been here.”

The high-powered campaign is backed by such pillars of the Houston community as the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, Children’s Museum of Houston, Phillips 66, the  Urban League of Houston and the Houston Dynamo and Dash MLS soccer teams.

Neil Bush, the son of the first President George Bush and brother of the second, helped kick off the campaign last week by endorsing TutorMate, which enables volunteers to mentor a child without having to take the time from work to travel to a school.

“It helps more people participate more effectively in intervening in a positive way in the life of a kid,” Bush said in his capacity as co-chair of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation.

Brian Ching, former Dynamo star and current managing director of the Dash, linked the literacy gap to the persistence of poverty. As the HISD News Blog reported:

“When you get out into Houston’s neighborhoods and meet families and children, you see the great need that exists, and how many forms poverty takes,” Ching said. “It involves the kind of housing people have, what food they eat, what jobs they hold, or whether they can find jobs, and what kind of opportunities they provide for their children.”

To apply to be a volunteer, click here.

NeilBushHISDRHRLaunch

At the Read Houston Read kickoff: (from left) Terry Grier, superintendent of Houston Independent School District; Neil Bush, co-chair of Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation; Julie Baker Finck, president of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation; Barbara Gilbert, national education director, Innovations for Learning. Sept. 4, 2014.
Video from HISD.
 

 

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