Doro Bush Koch: A foundation showing that reading is still fundamental

by Doro Bush Koch, The Dallas Morning News

At 90, my mom Barbara Bush has lived a fulfilling and fascinating life and now spends her days reading to and caring for my father. Yet she continues to worry about the future of our children, especially in the Dallas and Greater Fort Worth area, where less than 48 percent of third-grade students passed the reading component of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.

Through the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, she remains actively involved in ensuring that children in Texas and across the country gain access to literacy programs that help them learn to read at grade level. And this year, the foundation is expanding the number of family literacy programs from 18 to 24 in the DFW area. This effort starts with the community.

In Dallas, best-selling authors Harlan Coben, Dana Perino, Jodi Picoult, Scott Simon and Markus Zusak and supporters gathered together for the annual Celebration of Reading in Dallas event, which helps to sustain and expand the literacy programs throughout North Texas. These authors shared stories and read from their books.

The audience also heard from Rosauria Sanchez who spoke about her incredible experience at the local family literacy program. Rosauria, a mother of five children, came to America about 15 years ago. She wanted to improve her life and knew that she needed to learn English so she could help her children and become a better parent. She joined a local literacy program funded by the foundation. Rosauria’s story is one of the thousands of stories of individuals, children and families whose lives are changing because of the power of literacy and a community that is willing to invest in their future.

We have a good reason to celebrate. Because of the community’s support, the foundation’s literacy programs will serve families, youth leaders and young readers in the Teen Trendsetters programs in our state. Teen Trendsetters is a family literacy program that pairs teen mentors with first-, second- or third-grade students who are, on average, six months or more behind in reading. We know they work to help both the teen mentors who volunteer their time and young struggling readers who may not have the necessary support at home. We have seen lives changed: teens become a child’s “superhero,” and a child gains the confidence to read aloud.

In the Teen Trendsetters programs, the teens are motivated and set an excellent example for the young mentees. The program’s teen mentors have a 96-percent graduation rate, and over 80 percent of seniors anticipate attending college — most use the volunteer hours on their college applications. The teens are impressive and the mentees receive positive reinforcement from their mentors and a solid curriculum that sets the young children on a path to successfully learn to read.

Literacy is the engine of a child’s education. Being able to read is essential for every aspect of a child’s school day whether they are in science or math class. And it is important that children acquire their literacy skills early on. The facts are clear: 88 percent of students who do not graduate from high school were struggling readers in the third grade, according to a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

It is a real challenge in Texas and in America. Many of those with low-literate skills end up with low self-esteem, more health problems and limited economic opportunities during their lifetime. What we have learned is that we need to fix the literacy problems early and not wait until it’s too late to act. And it starts with investing in these children.

While we are expanding in Texas, we are also launching in other states, such as Mississippi and Maryland. There is a huge need for these types of programs. We are also sponsoring a global competition with XPRIZE that encourages teams to develop cutting edge technology that helps solves adult low-literacy at a large scale. From our local family literacy program to a global competition, we will continue to impact the lives of thousands of American children, which will inch closer to fulfilling my mom’s vision that literacy becomes a value in every home.

Doro Bush Koch is the honorary chairman of The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

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