RGV least literate population in Texas
When it comes to literacy, the Rio Grande Valley ranks dead last in the state of Texas.
In Starr County, only 35 percent of adults are literate in English. In Hidalgo County, it TMs only 50 percent.
Fortunately, educators and non-profit groups are aiming to change that and in turn increase graduation rates.
Norma Torres is a reading specialist at Evangelina Garza Elementary in Penitas.
Her sole job is to help students who struggle to read improve and truly comprehend the material.
"I break down the question and see what it is they are missing out on, Torres said. It turned out it was a small word they didn't know what the meaning was."
While each student may have different strengths and weaknesses, Torres says they all have the potential to become great readers.
It's like a doctor, I see what they need, I prescribe something and see if it works, Torres said. And it's just a never-ending process."
The vast majority of students at Evangelina Garza Elementary only speak Spanish in the home, so when they come to school they have a very limited vocabulary.
"Their first language is already limited so we not only have to teach them to read in their first language, but learn a second at the same time, Principal Maria Flores-Guerra said.
Flores-Guerra says if a student struggles to read in pre-k, that's when they intervene, before they fall behind.
"We rotate them throughout the day to make sure they get an additional 30 minutes [of reading]," Flores-Guerra said.
It TMs the kids who read at home who do better in school.
"The majority of our kids have not been read to by parents or siblings before coming to us at four years old, Flores-Guerra said.
That's why as executive director of the South Texas Literacy Coalition, Dr. Ida Acuna-Garza works hard to get books in the hands of every student.
"We have to start with young families with young children, promoting home literacy, print materials at home and establishing home libraries and parents reading to their kids, Acuna-Garza said.
Acuna-Garza says if kids don't read before they go to school they are already behind.
"A child who is not reading at grade level at third grade is four times less likely to graduate on time," Acuna-Garza said.
If that child is a minority or comes from a poor socio-economic background they are 13 times less likely to graduate on time.
"Nothing makes a greater impact a child's education than having those early years in life where their parents read to them, Flores-Guerra said.
According to the 2010 census, Texas and California tied for the lowest percentage of its population to have a high school diploma or GED.