HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Reading is a skill that is sometimes taken for granted, but for those who are illiterate, it can mean the difference between struggle and success.
Students who cannot read on level by third grade are at greater risk of dropping out of school, and more likely as adults to experience poverty, unemployment, even incarceration.
Data shows 73% of Houston's third graders cannot read on level, compared to 63% before COVID-19 shut down campuses in 2020.
For the third year in a row, ABC13 is joining nonprofit Literacy Now to bring awareness to Houston's urgent literacy crisis.
Thursday, ABC13 director of community engagement Brandon De Hoyos gathered leaders for an Action 13 town hall, tracking how schools are working to turn the page on illiteracy.
Literacy Now executive director Jacque Daughtry said the pandemic years made it nearly impossible to equip students with the reading skills they needed.
As a result, STAAR test reading assessments declined.
"(The pandemic) really has exacerbated a problem that was already there," Daughtry said.
HISD said the district is responding to the crisis by using federal relief funding to put students in smaller learning groups.
At Cunningham Elementary in southwest Houston, administrators have seen success by integrating intervention time into the master schedule, where foundational skills are the focus.
"We grew two levels to an A-rated school," principal Karen Harris said. "We grew in student growth because we focused on closing those gaps. We see students growing more than a years' (worth) of growth each year."
During Thursday's town hall, we also discussed how schools are addressing reading disparities among Black and Hispanic students, and the warning signs parents should look for that indicate a child might be struggling.
Our town hall featured a panel of educators and literacy experts, including:
- Principal Amanda Wingard, Neff Elementary School (HISD)
- Audrey Hollis, Literacy Now instructional coach and reading interventionist
- Jackie Daughtry, Literacy Now executive director
- Principal Karen Harris, Cunningham Elementary School
- Dr. Shawn Bird, HISD chief academic officer
PHOTOS: Houston Reads Day 2023
Earlier Thursday, ABC13 took part in Literacy Now's third annual "Houston Reads Day," where volunteers read to more than 14,000 students across 34 schools in Houston and Aldine ISDs.
Eyewitness News anchors Erica Simon, Jacob Rascon and meteorologist Elita Loresca joined students virtually at Milne Elementary after Thursday morning's newscasts, where they read books including "¡Tienes un pájaro en la cabeza!" and "Antonio's Amazing Gift," inspired by Disney's "Encanto."
Reporters Daniela Hurtado and Courtney Carpenter spent part of their morning reading to students at Cunningham Elementary.
At Bruce Elementary in east Houston, HISD Superintendent Millard House II and Mayor Sylvester Turner were joined by Houston Texans legends Wade Smith and ND Kalu, who read Dr. Seuss books to students. Thursday marked 119 years since Seuss' birth.
As part of Disney's Magic of Storytelling literacy campaign, ABC13 donated thousands of brand-new Disney books Thursday to 35 HISD and Aldine ISD elementary school libraries.
Literacy Now works with Pre-K through third grade students and caregivers to provide resources and reading intervention programs.
They also pair children with volunteer mentors, organize reading interventions and teach families how to include reading in their everyday lives.
You can click here to make a donation to Literacy Now
ABC13 Houston is proud to be the official media sponsor of Houston Reads Day.
You can watch the town hall wherever you stream Eyewitness News on your TV, like Roku and Fire TV. Just search "ABC13 Houston."
Disney is the parent company of this ABC station.