Elsa Cardenas Hagan, IDA Board member, received a generous donation from former first lady Barbara Bush at theCelebration of Reading event held in Houston this past April. The award is a matching grant from the Brownsville Foundation for Health and Education and will assist all dyslexia teachers in Brownsville, Texas to become state certified dyslexia practitioners. Brownsville hopes to achieve this goal within the next school year. By increasing the professional standards required for dyslexia teachers, the quality of services for dyslexic individuals should also improve. Brownsville will become a model for other cities and school districts to follow.
The award was quite a surprise as Elsa Cardenas Hagan had been invited as a special guest speaker to the Celebration of Reading event. Mrs. Bush invited Elsa after hearing her remarks in Houston at the Neuhaus Education Center’s Spring Luncheon. Mrs. Bush was impressed by the collaborative efforts of the school district, business community, and university. Brownsville partnered with the Neuhaus Education Center to train all dyslexia teachers and general education reading instructors. The initiative began fifteen years ago and the school district has been able to sustain its initial reading reform efforts.
Brownsville is located along the Texas-Mexico border and is one of the poorest cities in the nation. In 1996 a group of concerned citizens gathered and created Brownsville READS! This non-profit organization’s primary goal was to meet and exceed then Texas Governor George W. Bush’s reading challenge of every child reading on grade level by the 3rdgrade.
A strategic plan was formed for achieving this goal. Input from the business community and educational leaders was essential. The plan became policy with required reviews of progress towards meeting each of the goals. This strategic plan and process has been essential for the school district to sustain its reading reform efforts. In Brownsville and many other school districts across the nation, the leadership changes about every 2-3 years, but the strategic plan remains in place for the continuity and sustainability of reading reform efforts.
Brownsville’s progress was noticed by the Eli Broad Foundation. In 2008, the Brownsville school district received the Broad Award. The Broad Award is one of the nation’s most prestigious education awards. Brownsville schools had outperformed other school districts with similar demographics in math at all grade levels and in reading at the elementary and high school levels. One million dollars was awarded to graduating seniors. Today these students are the first in their families to attend college. The seniors of the Class of 2008 were first grade students in 1996 when the reading reform efforts had just begun. The journey towards literacy has been a success. In just 2 more years, the city of Brownsville will have a new generation of college graduates who benefitted from the reading reform efforts. Improved education has broken the re-occurring cycle of poverty in an entire city. Brownsville will no longer be a community of poverty. The lives of the students and community members have been enriched as a result of improved literacy.
The work continues in Brownsville as all students with reading difficulties such as dyslexia, will be instructed by a highly qualified reading instructor. Each of these instructors has now completed a two year professional development course provided by the Neuhaus Education Center. This next school year the teachers will complete a mentoring process and pass a national exam to demonstrate their competency for treating students with dyslexia and other reading disorders.
The state does not mandate licensure for dyslexia teachers, but Brownsville wants to demonstrate its commitment to the highest quality teacher and the best services for their dyslexic students.
Mrs. Bush patiently awaits the next chapter of success in Brownsville.