Community Literacy in Three Languages: English, Spanish, and Coding

Last week, Superintendent Dr. Ricardo Lopez sat down with Education Talk Radio host Larry Jacobs to discuss the goals and achievements of the Mission CISD Reads program in Mission, Texas. Together, these thought leaders discussed the importance of improving literacy in rural, low-income, bilingual areas—not just for children enrolled in the school district, but for their parents, families, and fellow community members as well. In addition to the students participating in the Mission’s community-based literacy program, adults who never received the reading instruction they required are now finding the help they deserve.

Dr. Lopez started by talking about the three cities the district serves as well as the cultural setting of Mission CISD. He described it as an almost tropical paradise, nestled on the border of the United States and Mexico. This is an area, he said, where a majority of the population are Hispanic and 85 percent of the families are economically disadvantaged, roughly a third of whom are also English language learners (ELLs).

Mission’s “mission” to spread literacy throughout their community, Dr Lopez recalled, began after a recent census revealed a 50 percent illiteracy rate among the adults in the area. Faced with a high poverty rate and an active immigrant community, Dr. Lopez and his team made it Mission CISD’s goal to provide local families with the literacy tools they need to succeed. “We want our community to thrive,” Dr. Lopez said, “not just survive.”

Mission CISD Reads started their summer program in May, with the goal of helping families build out their own “home libraries” through online access to literacy environments where they could read thousands of books just by logging in on school or library laptops, tablets, and even smartphones.

Dr. Lopez and his team decided to take this approach after asking themselves one thing: “How do we define literacy?” The answer they came up with was that, “Literacy is the ability to read, write, speak, and think critically at grade level.” The language in which someone can accomplish this doesn’t matter, they decided, and in fact the program and its staff embraced the multilingual nature of their method, even expanding upon it when they extended the initiative to three core languages: English, Spanish, and Coding.

In the interview, Jacobs commended Dr. Lopez as being his first guest on the show to ever refer to coding as a language that is equally as important as Spanish and English. They discussed students’ future in a world in which so many jobs will revolve around their ability to understand and even “speak” in code. “This is a skill our kids will need to get the jobs they want and deserve,” Dr. Lopez said, “so it’s up to us to properly equip them for this future.”

They further discussed the community aspect of the program. Dr. Lopez shared how he tapped the resources and support of local libraries, businesses, and government to help provide access to devices and reading to anyone in the community who was interested in learning. To offer true 24/7 access for all, Dr. Lopez said, the district is working with the city of Mission to provide free WiFi throughout the community.

Being able to provide a universal login was the icing on the cake. The district promoted the login through advertisements shared all over town that included a free username and password. This way, anybody in the community (whether involved in the school system or not) could see it and instantly have access to a plethora of reading materials and assistive literacy tools.

Since the district shared this access, Dr. Lopez said, the kids of Mission have read more than 100,000 books, with an additional 6,000 to 7,000 documented log-ins for books read by members of the community. Everyone in Mission has benefited from the reading initiative but, as a pleasant surprise, a majority of the community reading has taken place in the “on-the-border” areas that have been hit the hardest by poverty and illiteracy.

The online library provides just-right books for students in a variety of languages and at every level of reading comprehension. Dr. Lopez especially loved the fact that native Spanish speakers could find books written originally in Spanish. Spanish-to-English (and English-to-Spanish) translations are available, along with an audio option that reads books out loud. Together, it all ties into Mission’s definition of literacy: helping the community improve their reading, speaking, and critical thinking in whatever language (or languages) they wish.

Dr. Lopez’s interview with Larry Jacob’s can be found at blogtalkradio.com.