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To Get Tarrant County Kids Reading, Teachers Head To Training, But Parents Can Help Now

Stella M. Chávez
Students at Oakhurst Elementary School in Fort Worth are outperforming their peers at other district schools in reading. File photo from October 2016.

Experts say teaching a child how to read at a young age can make a big difference later in life. Last week, Tarrant County education groups held a forum to discuss how to get younger kids to read – and how to get their parents involved.

There are several efforts aimed at improving the literacy skills of Tarrant County’s youngest children, including summer training for teachers and online resources for parents.

Inspiring a love of reading 

When Robert Muñoz was a kid, he didn’t just spend his summers relaxing.

“My mom just didn’t let us play baseball in the summer, or go swimming, but we had to go to the library, cause my dad was a mailman and was able to be off during the week,” Muñoz remembered.

Today, Muñoz is Vice President for Continuing Education at Tarrant County College’s Trinity River Campus. He says those early trips to the library were just the beginning of a lifelong appreciation for books.

“I was very lucky, very fortunate, very blessed that I could go check out the max [number of books]…and each week do that,” he said.

Muñoz wants to spark that love of reading in kids in Tarrant County. He and other education leaders are making a push to boost literacy skills across the county.

The challenge is steep

In the Fort Worth school district, just 3 out of 10 third graders read at grade level. One way the district is tackling this problem is by helping teachers teach kids how to become better readers. Beginning this summer, teachers in Fort Worth and several other Tarrant County school districts will undergo training.

Arcelia Leon is with the Fort Worth school district.

“So the trainers would come, get trained, go back and they would training teachers …,” Leon said. “It’s not going to be a one-time deal in the summer and then, you know, ‘Good luck, see you later.”

It’s called the Lone Star Literacy Institute, and it’s a partnership with regional education officials and United Way of Tarrant County.

Steve Chapman is superintendent of the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district, one of the district’s participating in this summer’s training. He says districts struggle with high-quality training for teachers of early grade levels.

Fort Worth wants 100 percent of third graders in the school district to read at grade level by 2025.

Chapman’s been in the education business 33 years and says the best teachers used to be placed in the grades where students took state standardized tests. He says that’s changed.

“And now what we’re seeing is we need to also have our very best teachers in those early grade levels, because they talk a lot about remediation, about intervention, but if we really get the early literacy right, we’re talking about prevention,” Chapman said.

Chapman says it’s important for schools to partner with community organizations to help build kids’ reading skills.

Getting parents involved

Last fall, a coalition of education, business, civic and nonprofit leaders teamed up to form the Fort Worth Literacy Partnership. Their goal? To get 100 percent of third graders in the Fort Worth district to read at grade level by 2025.

The United Way has something called Reading Oasis — designated areas for families in 21 Tarrant County schools. These nooks encourage parents to work with their children on their literacy skills.

There’s also an online resource for parents that some Tarrant County districts are using, called ReadyRosie. The videos teach parents in English and Spanish how they can help their children to read and think critically. For example, in one of the videos a dad reads a book to his daughter named Rosie. But he tries to start the book in the middle.

Tarrant County Educators in Tarrant County say they’re doing their part to boost literacy skills. But they want families to play a bigger role in getting their kids to read, too.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.