Program stresses importance of early reading

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Jan. 23—Homebound teachers with Ector County ISD's Teen Parent Related Services program are distributing age-appropriate books for parents to read to their children about every two and a half months.

First rolled out in September, Homebound Teacher Hortencia del Bosque said she got a roughly $5,000 grant from the Education Foundation to begin Early Literacy Jumpstart.

In her office at the George H.W. New Tech Odessa building, there are tubs of books for different campuses organized by age and del Bosque has a book list.

"We're trying to give them a book every two and a half months. Every time they get a book, I continue to give them this reading guide to help them get reinforcement about the importance of reading to their child," del Bosque said.

She has a list of questions and answers about the benefits of reading to your children such as what you should read to your newborn; when and how should you start reading to your baby; how many minutes a day should you read to your baby.

"Within those questions, I have also broken it down by age, like at birth what is significant for them to remember that the back layer their baby's eyes can't detect the light fully so that's the reason why the contrasting black and whites is so important in those early books. And then at 3 months when that is developed, then contrast and color and pattern and texture and sound is introduced, so ... it's educating them as well as giving them the tools, the books that are appropriate for that developmental age," del Bosque said.

Del Bosque said she also sends parents reminders about the importance of reading through texts, GIFS, quotes and facts between book distribution periods.

The Early Literacy Jumpstart project is a little outside of the norm for del Bosque as she is a retired Odessa High School English teacher and department chair.

"I've learned a lot and actually creating this grant, writing this grant, researching early literacy and the importance of reading and the kinds of books that you should be reading to your kids at different ages and so forth," she said.

Her motivation wasn't just that she was dealing with students who were new parents, but the results of what she saw in high school when students didn't have that foundation.

Another factor was Superintendent Scott Muri's revelation that less than 35 percent of children were kindergarten ready. Del Bosque started wondering how this was possible.

"And then I started thinking, I'm dealing with a group of parents. Maybe there's something that I can do now to kind of help develop literacy, so I just started researching and wrote this grant," she said.

The initiative required an adjustment for the team because they are used to working directly on the health and well being of their students and parents and their babies.

"... We're not used to working with the education of those infants, so it was really thinking outside the box. ... Now everyone appears to be on board. The students love it. They're asking for the next book, I'm actually now on DonorsChoose ... to try to help continue the inventory that I have and to keep this going for the next three, four years, because we definitely want our newborns to continue reading," Del Bosque said.

Teen Parent Services Coordinator Rose Valderaz said this program is essential to the work they do. She said the stronger the reader, the brighter the future for the baby and students in the program.

"... It is a proven fact that you can pick who will be a dropout by reading proficiency as early as third grade. That is not acceptable," Valderaz said in an email. "We want all our babies (and) students to understand the importance of interacting with their babies. It is all too easy to stick a cell phone in front of a child and we want better for our kids. Reading books with a great selection is critical. I fully support the Early Literacy Jumpstart initiative that Hortencia has put together and appreciate all of my team and so many others that are a part of this work."

Celeste Potter, director of the Education Foundation, said the foundation is honored to support the Early Literacy Jumpstart grant in ECISD.

"Reading is a fundamental step in helping children learn and be successful in school. This program compliments the Bookworms Literacy Program in ECISD and allows us to reach children at an even younger age," Potter said in an email.

Del Bosque noted that the TPRS program is meant to alleviate, and eliminate, if possible, the obstacles that high school or secondary students have in completing school and graduating even though they're parents.

"That's our main job, but we're also helping them be better parents in terms of health and caring for that child, but that to me ... goes hand in hand when you're thinking about the importance of education. It's not just the parents' education that we should be concerned about; it's the child. So I think it was interesting to see some of the reactions on the first rollout, especially the male parents that we have. They were typically reacting, saying things like, you know, my child is too young. They don't know how to read," del Bosque said.

But reading to them helps prepare a foundation of learning for them.

"... I really make it a point to try to impress on the males that have sons ... that it's even more important that they see their father reading to them to break some of the stereotypes that we have about education; you know, that boys are only good at math and science and sports," she said.

The opposite is often said of women or girls that they are not supposed to be good at science and math, she said.

Currently, she said TPRS has 90 active students, but that fluctuates.

Del Bosque has two students and fellow TPRS Homebound Teacher Kimberly Shannon Bryer has one.

"But we have a list of upcoming homebound and we know that they're due later in January or February ...," she said.

Del Bosque added that they help parents with community services and benefits.

"... This has been fun for me to do something different and definitely not in my usual realm of experience as a secondary English teacher," she added.

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