Texas Tech University

Education Professors Become Literacy Champions for East Lubbock Schools

Heidi Toth

October 19, 2015

The literacy initiative is part of the East Lubbock Promise Neighborhood grant.

Six Texas Tech University education professors are taking creative literacy initiatives to schools in East Lubbock.

René Saldaña Jr.

The balanced literacy component of the East Lubbock Promise Neighborhood grant started this school year with the shared goal of improving literacy practices in high-need schools. The program moves beyond ensuring students are literate, said education professor René Saldaña, Jr. Rather, the professors, along with teachers and literacy coaches from the Lubbock Independent School District, focus on literacy success – helping students to understand the books, stories and poems they read and to love reading.

“As literacy practitioners, there is nothing more important than supporting students' literacy development,” said Mellinee Lesley, the associate dean of graduate education and research in the College of Education. “It is truly our life's work. Although we are working in different schools with different literacy goals, there is a larger, overarching goal of student success that we are working on collectively with campus principals, teachers and central office administrators.”

Mellinee Lesley
Mellinee Lesley

Lesley and Saldaña, along with fellow education professors Patriann Smith, Amma Akrofi, Julie Smit and Ana Torres, will be literacy champions at four elementary schools, one middle school and one high school in East Lubbock. Each will spend six to eight hours a week in their respective schools, working with educators, administrators and students to identify specific campus needs related to promoting literacy. The literacy champions are there only for support; they do not critique the teachers or schools.

Each school has a different literacy plan. For instance, Lesley is working with students in a college readiness program at Estacado High School to develop academic writing skills. The students are working on personal narrative essays based on the topic “A Day in My Shoes.” She has been helping students generate and develop ideas and draft their essays. The students' essays will be published in a book when the first cycle of writing is finished.

Torres, who is bilingual, is working with several teachers at Harwell Elementary School to help students celebrate reading in two languages. In December, community members will come to campus to read to students, and each child will get a copy of the book. The book, “Niño Wrestles the World” by Yuyi Morales, also will become part of each classroom library.

“The literacy champions initiative was established to strengthen the collaborative partnership between Texas Tech University and Lubbock Independent School District,” said Theresa Williams, the deputy superintendent of academic services for LISD. “Strong partnerships between universities and school districts have proven to be invaluable in bridging theory to practice in meaningful, relevant and practical ways that have a positive impact on students, teachers and university faculties.”

The program runs only through this school year, but both Lesley and Saldaña say they hope it will extend beyond May. They also want to implement programs in each school that teachers and administrators can keep going without the literacy champions or provide enough resources that each school can come up with its own plan.

“Part of the ELPN expectation is sustainability,” Saldaña said. “Though each of us is approaching literacy success in our own individual ways, the goal is the same: to get there. We hope the kids will experience success as a result of the teachers' work and our work, that they will be able to take from it something they can use in the future.”

The balanced literacy initiative is just one of many Texas Tech has spearheaded as part of ELPN, founded in 2013 with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The program aims to educate, support and advocate for children and parents in one of the poorest, most underserved neighborhoods in Texas. Programs focus on health, early learning education and community and have included such projects as music lessons from College of Visual & Performing Arts students; increasing participation in Early Head Start from the College of Human Sciences; Camp Champion, a four-day camp out on by the Department of Kinesiology & Sport Management; and school readiness programs from the College of Education.

The greater goal of ELPN is to bring to the fore East Lubbock's rich story in so many different ways,” Saldaña said. “Our part, as literacy folks, is to ensure each of the children whose lives we touch will learn, as U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera said, that their voices are beautiful, their stories wonderful and worth telling.”