Houston mayor shares childhood reading struggles to help promote literacy

Some Houston-area literacy leaders say the city is in a crisis when it comes to making sure kids can read. They're asking to help change that on this Houston Reads Day.

"When kids have a hard time reading, it does affect their future performance, says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. "What standing they will be in high school; whether or not they’ll stay all the way through; whether they will stay on a track; whether they can further their education and get a quality job or end up in the criminal justice system."


The mayor stopped by Bruce Elementary School to read a witty-worded, tongue twister of a tale by Dr. Seuss because he knows it will affect the students forever.

"In reading to these second-grade students, it brought back memories because it was in the second grade that my life changed," shares Mayor Turner. "I’m an Acres Homes kid. Neither parent graduated from high school. Neither parent. And they couldn’t help me when I brought my homework home." And he isn’t alone.

Houston non-profit Literacy Now invited our city’s leader, Houston Texans players, the Texans president, and HISD Superintendent Millard House to read to students on this Houston Reads Day because kids who are not read to are more likely to become adults who are unemployed, homeless or incarcerated.


"I’ve known this statistic for years, but it still gives me chills to think about that 85% of children ages 10 to 17 that have involvement with the juvenile justice system are functionally illiterate," says Jacque Daughtry Executive Director of Literacy Now. "70% of adult inmates read at a fourth grade level or below."

"We have pep rallies for football. We have pep rallies for basketball but how often are we celebrating reading?" smiles Bruce Elementary School Principal Dr. Shawn Nickerson, who is excited to host a reading celebration on her campus.

"Just to support literacy and bring awareness to the literacy crisis in Houston, it’s just such an important cause, and we’re happy to be here," says Houston Texans President Greg Grissom.

In Houston, 73% of 3rd graders read below average and 41% enter Kindergarten not prepared to read.

"Basically that means they don’t have the letter naming and sounding out and all those skills ready to read. So think about that they’re five, and they’re already behind," Daughtry adds, and she says kids who struggle with reading often become embarrassed, stop trying and act out.


"There is a direct causal effect between a child not being able to read on grade level and very negative outcomes." Daughtry says.

"Up until second grade I was one of those slow starters, so to speak." says Mayor Turner.

But that changed when his second-grade teacher began engaging him with books, empowering him to do something he hadn’t been very good at reading.

"Dora Hall was that second-grade teacher, and it changed my life forever. But for reading, my life could have easily taken a different course."

If you have a child who’s struggling to read, how can you help?

"Read, read, read, read, read (to your child). Now, if you’re a parent and your literacy level isn’t high that’s ok. You can use a book and use the pictures, and you can make the story yourself. Tell stories about your family. Go outside, take walks and talk about all the things that you’re seeing and be really rich in your descriptions."

Literacy Now has more tips at literacynowhouston.org