Literacy: Addressing the challenge

HARLINGEN — Araceli placed the golf ball on the tee.

The fourth grader raised the golf club high in the air, swung hard and knocked the ball across the field, kicking up some turf and leaving a divot.

Araceli and some of her classmates may not have as many opportunities to learn vocabulary as others. Students from low-income families are at a disadvantage. That’s why the Harlingen school district uses a variety of tools to help children achieve literacy.

Initiatives like the golf program are some of those tools. The program serves multiple purposes. It provides exercise, improves eye-hand coordination and then something else: strangely, it actually helps literacy.

Because you see, in the course of learning golf, Araceli and her fellow blossoming golfers have built their vocabulary. They know the spelling and definition of “tee” and “divot.” The district seeks out authentic real-life experiences to facilitate learning, and teaching vocabulary while learning how to golf is a good way to make it “stick.”

Efforts to bring children up to speed in their reading level begins from, well, the very beginning, said Beulah Rangel, Travis Elementary principal.

“We embrace an all-day pre-K to give our students a head start on their education,” Rangel said. “We truly promote early literacy in Harlingen.”

Teachers in the early grades use pictorial representation. They work one on one with children and small group instruction to help students feel they are reinforced and supported. This helps boost confidence.

Beyond that are experiences, Rangel said.

“Some of our students, their parents may not take them to the zoo,” Rangel said. “Although we’re so close to the zoo they cannot afford to take them there. So we’re providing those experiences at our schools and throughout the district, of course.”

And of course new sporting activities are also a new initiative. Last semester many children had the look of wonder in their eyes during their first introduction to tennis. Some had never heard of the game, much less held a tennis racket.

This semester it’s golf.

“Our third graders are learning to play golf,” Rangel said. “It’s an expensive sport that our more affluent students would probably be introduced to. However, our low socio-economic students will never have the experience, or they majority of them may not have that experience. And we’re teaching them the names of everything that they’re using.”

Educators emphasized the importance of literacy at home and the interactions of parents. The school district is encouraging parents to speak with their children at home. One way is through a program called ReadyRosie.

“What ReadyRosie allows us to do is send parents via text or email a school reading activity to do with their child,” said Mary Alvarez, early childhood specialist.

“Most of the videos are less than a minute long, and they highlight certain vocabularies we would want the parents to use with their child,” she said. “This younger generation is all about their iPhones, so we can get it to them via their phones.”


ReadyRosie is an early education tool that is currently helping schools and communities deepen parent engagement efforts through video and the use of modern technology.

ReadyRosie has hundreds of brief videos in English and Spanish that help parents teach their children with their reading proficiency.

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