Literacy and the low-income household

HARLINGEN — A vacation to Austin can serve a child with a feast of new vocabulary.

“Let’s stop at the crosswalk, Brianna,” says her mother during a stroll down the main drag.

“Crosswalk?” answers the second grader.

“Yes, so the cars will stop and let us cross to the other side.”

Brianna’s parents have been chatting each other up all morning, and including her in the conversation. This experience also helps her and other children with literacy. She’s an excellent reader with an extensive and growing vocabulary. Her mother works for a television station, her father’s a hospital administrator. They can afford to travel and provide Brianna and her brother with experiences.

But what about children who don’t have that access? What if their parents don’t make enough money to provide them with these experiences? They have all they can handle just keeping food on the table and keeping clothes on their backs. They’re loving parents, but the money just isn’t there.

More than 70 percent of the Harlingen school district’s students – about 19,000 – come from low-income households.

This can have far-reach consequences on a child’s progress toward literacy, said Alicia Noyola, chief academic officer for the Harlingen school district.

“They are bright kids but they are coming in with gaps,” Noyola said. “It’s a big experiential piece that they don’t have, versus some of your students that are a bit more fluent.”

The education level of the parents impacts more than their yearly income. The conversations they’re having in the home in the presence of children affects their vocabulary and reading level.

“The vocabulary in the home is going to be higher than in a home where the parents may not have the same level of education,” Noyola said.

Monday morning, Derek walks into class and starts talking to Brianna about the exhibits he saw on Saturday at a museum.

“My parents and I were in Austin and we were at a crosswalk and we saw this old car but it was all shiny,” Brianna says excitedly. “My dad said it was a vintage car.”

Jose has been listening in and asks, “What’s a crosswalk?”

The rest of the conversation might as well be in a script.