There is much discussion about poverty these days. Nearly 22% of children, upwards of 16 million of U.S. children, live in poverty. Nearly 45% of children live in low-income families, which are above the poverty threshold, but still disadvantaged. Children of color are especially affected, with higher rates of childhood poverty among African American, Latino, and Native American families. Besides the challenge of getting their day-to-day needs of sustenance met, children living in poverty also are impoverished for adequate learning and educational opportunities.
By fifth grade, many low-income students do not have the critical reading skills to tackle their course work. The Anne Casey Foundation studied the gap in achievement in literacy and their report entitled The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success states, “…for many low-income children, the gap starts early.” The Anne Casey Foundation report also found, “the stress caused by poverty can impair children’s cognitive development.” Especially when kids don’t have access to books, this achievement gap deepens further.
We must also acknowledge that the English we teach our children to read in school may not be the language spoken at home. Nearly 50% of school-age children in California do not speak English at home. Thirty percent of students in Texas and Nevada speak a language besides English at home. Nationally, one out of five do not speak English at home. The lion’s share of those speaking a foreign language at home are Spanish speakers. However, speaking Spanish at home does not impede literacy in English. Nearly 40% of English words have a Spanish cognate, which is why having bilingual reading materials, like those published by Lectura Books, available in homes and schools is so crucial to narrowing the achievement gap.
Whether an American family greets each other saying “Hola” or “Hello”, that family may face poverty. Therefore, our response to poverty must also be unified. Besides making greater strides to meet children’s physical needs, we must also make a concerted effort to combat furthering the cycle of poverty by meeting each child’s and community’s educational needs.
Books that are meaningful to parents will help to make a connection with reading with their children. A good example of a meaningful book for Hispanic parents is Letters Forever, which describes what it is like to have a long distance relationship with a grandparent without the ability to see them regularly.
For teacher training to work with parent involvement with English Learners, visit The Latino Family Literacy Project.