“Read me a couple books!”
That’s one of those phrases my mom likes to mimic when she tells stories about my childhood. A smaller, curlier-haired version of me would bound into her room every night, crawl onto the bed and demand to be read to.
And every night without fail, my mother would summon the patience of Job and read with me. We whipped through Bye-Bye, Bottle, starring the always popular Kermit the Frog, and soon moved on to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen mystery novels and the Magic Tree House series. By the time our nightly reading sessions came to a close, I had just started my lifelong obsession with Harry Potter.
On Friday, I went to Rivera Elementary School for Read Across America Day. Every year on the birth date of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, schools across the country invite community members to come read to students. I volunteered to read with some third- and fourth-grade classes, not because I want 10-year-olds to think I’m cool (I definitely do) but because we have a bit of a problem in Denton.
Educational researchers say third grade is a critical time when it comes to childhood literacy. Up until 10 years old, kids are learning to read. After that, they’re reading to learn. That means kids could struggle with even the simplest word problems if they don’t have a solid reading foundation.
The drop-off in child literacy has cast a noticeable shadow over the district, with the topic cropping up often at school board meetings. In fact, school board members are pledging to improve reading levels by 2025 as part of their updated board goals.
But raising reading levels in Denton certainly isn’t a hopeless endeavor.
When I asked the kids at Rivera what they liked to read, they rattled off a list of titles: the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Dog Man and Towers Falling. They like books about Minecraft, books about rocks and books about presidents. And boy, were they pumped when we read the Dr. Seuss classic Green Eggs and Ham.
That kind of enthusiasm is comforting coming from Rivera. The school has a large population of economically disadvantaged kids and English language learners, two groups that traditionally struggle in school compared to their English-speaking, higher-income peers. If the kids at Rivera were struggling, you couldn’t see it on their faces.
Now, I don’t claim to be a parenting expert in any way. As a childless 25-year-old, I understand that raising children is a tough job and there are many times that I’m glad I only have a dog. Some parents have to work multiple jobs, while others may not have the funds to fill their homes with books. Reading before bed just might not be possible for every family.
However, I do know the impact reading with your child can make. I may not be a rocket scientist or a millionaire, but I am able to better understand the world around me because I read well. I’m able to communicate with people in a more effective way because I read well. And if I have a question about something, I know I can almost always find the answer by reading.
That love of reading is why I went to Rivera on Friday. I don't know if that love translated to those students in the short time I was there, but it is something I’m trying to instill in my own family.
I’ve made it my personal mission to build up my 1-year-old niece’s bookshelf and I’m constantly harping on my sister to read to her. Soon, the baby will be running through the house and speaking in complete sentences. With any luck, she’ll grab a handful of books each night and demand to be read to.
With even more luck, one of those books will be Harry Potter.
If you're interested in becoming a mentor at a Denton ISD campus, email Courtney Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.
FEATURED PHOTO: Denton Record-Chronicle reporter Caitlyn Jones reads to children at Rivera Elementary School on Friday in Denton. Denton ISD's elementary schools celebrated Read Across America Day by asking community volunteers to read to students for 30 minutes on campuses across the district. The celebration marks what would have been the 114th birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Jeff Woo/DRC