Learning to read is like receiving a magic key that opens up the world. Once a child finds a way in, the reading road leads to a multitude of discoveries and opportunities. As an educator and a former superintendent, I saw that magic materialize hundreds of times for hundreds of students who found excitement, inspiration, escape and just plain old knowledge in the pages of books.
Reading is a skill that builds and grows, and becomes the key to navigating the education landscape and, of course, the world. That’s why I decided to designate 2021-22 the Year of Literacy for our state’s schools because I know we have work to do and that, by giving it our all, we can help every student in New Mexico learn to read and unlock the world with that magic key.
I recently visited the schools in Vaughn, a small town southeast of Albuquerque — and home of the Eagles. It’s a tiny district, with just 60 students total, but the elementary students have been making great strides in literacy, in spite of — and maybe even a little bit because of — the impacts of the pandemic.
This past school year, the percentage of elementary students in Vaughn who were proficient at reading more than doubled, from 21% to 46%. Superintendent Lindsey Padilla says they still have a way to go, but he’s encouraged and excited to see such a marked improvement. So I asked him how he’s doing it.
Superintendent Padilla told me that, during the pandemic, the district focused on supporting students socially and emotionally, and providing one-on-one tutoring via Zoom. At the same time, he started holding monthly meetings for parents and families, and because the meetings were virtual, attendance in the sprawling, rural district jumped more than tenfold compared to pre-pandemic, in-person meetings.
At first, those meetings were just informational. Then, he said, he decided to spotlight educational strategies families could use at home while reading with their children. Parent engagement kept improving, so those meetings are now a regular part of life in Vaughn Municipal Schools.
That’s exactly what I like to see: Huge growth in reading success because schools and educators and families are engaging in meaningful partnerships, and focusing on literacy — and not just for this school year. Let’s keep the momentum going by continuing to hand books to our students, to take them to libraries and to model our own love for literature. Let’s make sure that all New Mexico’s children discover that magic key to the world.
This is the first of a series of monthly columns from New Mexico Education Secretary-designate Kurt Steinhaus about the value of literacy. The Journal is publishing them as part of its ongoing “The Literacy Project,” which shines a light on the issue in partnership with KOAT-TV and KKOB Radio.
Check out the New Mexico Education Department’s “Early Literacy Guides for Families” in English at https://bit.ly/FamilyLiteracyNM and in Spanish at https://bit.ly/GuiaFamiliarNM. It offers an assortment of age-specific resources and ideas to inspire our youth to hop on the road to reading. The guide also offers ways to work with your child’s teachers to identify literacy milestones and overcome obstacles.