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UH Education Students Develop ‘Must Read’ Projects for Houston Families

Literacy Effort Supported by Cougar Initiative to Engage

By Mike Emery 713-743-7197

Bookcase full of books

For today’s K-12 students, learning doesn’t end when the final school bell rings. These days, parents often support their children’s academic development when they’re not in the classroom. 

That’s a good thing for young learners. According to the National Center on Improving Literacy, parents’ involvement in at-home reading activities enhances children’s reading abilities, comprehension, and language skills. 

UH professor Anne Katz is well-aware of this fact and has led efforts to engage Houston-area parents in participating in more home-based literacy lessons. 

For four semesters, Katz, clinical associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Houston’s College of Education, has guided UH education students—all early childhood pre-service teachers (PSTs) —in developing literacy projects that parents can share with their children. 

As part of a curriculum and instruction course that Katz teaches, these PSTs created and modeled family literacy activities for children attending Houston’s Pilgrim Academy and their families for two semesters. 

Under Katz’s guidance, UH education students also designed activities and donated children’s books to students in public schools around the Houston area during a field experience week. For this particular project, Katz’s students sent personalized Introductory letters to parents describing these home-based literacy exercises. Letters and books were sent in packets that also included step-by-step instructions for these activities, discussion questions, ideas for differentiation, extensions and additional materials. 

“These projects inspire a culture of literacy within families,” Katz said. “My hope is that this collaboration creates a foundation within their homes where they can further share the joy of reading, or perhaps plan family activities around books or visits to their local libraries.” 

Past projects have included a family tree activity developed by Marlene Galera, a recent College of Education graduate. Using the book, “A Thousand White Butterflies,” Galera’s activity invited a student to create paper butterflies representing their parents and siblings. The goal was to foster dialogue on family history and different cultures and to encourage further reading in both English and Spanish with recommended additional books on the topic. 

“I love this project because it gives students the opportunity to see themselves in literature,” Galera said. “Students can connect with characters that look, feel, and have experiences like them. The books used for this family literacy project are diverse and provide students with mirrors of their own life or windows into cultures in and out of their community.” 

Student Rahma Fatima’s activity centered on the book “The Water Protectors” and addressed environmental issues related to conservation. Two other projects introduced families to groundbreaking librarian (and New York’s first Puerto Rican librarian) Pura Belpré. 

Recent graduate Maritza Silva invited a student and their family to create and illustrate a story inspired by the book “Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories.” Her peer Alexis Silva also delved into the art of storytelling by embracing the book “Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré.” She asked students to create an original puppet accompanied by a creative story. This activity was inspired by how Belpré created her own puppets to use for story times at the library.  

All of these projects were spotlighted in journal articles including one authored by Katz, Galera, and Maritza Silva in the 2023 Texas Association for Literacy Education Yearbook. Katz also co-authored an article with Fatima and Alexis Silva in the International Literacy Association Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group journal. 

During previous semesters, Katz and students celebrated these projects with participating families and teachers during special reading nights at Pilgrim Academy. This spring, Katz and former Pilgrim Academy principal Diana Castillo (a UH alumna) delivered a presentation on this program during UH’s Symposium on Community Engagement and Experiential Learning.  

Feedback from PSTs and parents has been positive, Katz said. In follow-up surveys, parents have expressed enthusiasm for how these literacy activities have enriched their families’ appreciation for reading and books. 

One parent responded to the survey with feedback on how they now regularly engage in discussions about books with their child: “(We) spend more time discussing pictures—asking why the illustrator chose to draw certain things and why they chose to use that color and how it makes the reader feel.” 

For Katz and her PSTs, such feedback is particularly validating. 

“It is wonderful to see the impact that these projects are having on local families, and to celebrate the creativity and dedication of UH College of Education students,” Katz said. 

Over the past four semesters, Katz oversaw over 250 PSTs who developed projects for students and their families. She looks forward to continuing this academic service-learning work in future semesters. 

Her efforts have been supported by Cougar Initiative to Engage (CITE) UH’s 2018-2023 Quality Enhancement Plan. CITE’s goal was to increase the number of high-impact experiential learning activities and the number of undergraduate students participating in these activities. CITE awarded 125 grants, providing funds to seed and expand 90 programs. Over 6,000 students reaped the benefits of these CITE-supported projects. 

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