My mom is fondly known as the "First Lady of Literacy." She has been a champion for the literacy cause across the country for nearly three decades while in the White House and subsequently through her national organization, the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.
Barbara Bush has always understood that learning begins and is reinforced at home with parents being the child's first and most important teachers. Although we didn't directly discuss the topic of literacy in our home while growing up, Mom created an environment in our house that valued, fostered, and modeled strong literacy development for my siblings and me. She frequently read to us, spoke to us using words that developed early vocabulary, and encouraged us to speak what was on our minds in clear sentences and to always write thank-you notes.
Having strong parental engagement in the learning and development of a child has always been a priority and focus of my mother in our home, as First Lady of the United States, and throughout her life. Mom's national foundation has supported family literacy programs in all fifty states, because she realizes that low literacy is intergenerational and that breaking the cycle of low literacy requires a focus on family literacy.
When Maria and I formed the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation four years ago, we were intent on leveraging Mom's legacy in literacy in her backyard by bringing the community together to solve our city's literacy crisis and to raise awareness of the critical importance of developing age-appropriate literacy skills. Everyone deserves to have the right to learn how to read and to reach his/her fullest potential in life. In the wealthiest country in the world, it is a travesty that 36 million Americans are functionally illiterate. My Mom says that if more people could read, write and comprehend, many of our problems as a nation would be solved or at least well on their way to being addressed. Literacy is such a foundational skill that her belief makes simple sense.
Houston is the perfect city to address the literacy crisis, and I am proud that the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation is playing an important role as a catalyst for change. The coalitions that are working area- wide and in specific neighborhoods are engaging thousands of change-makers in raising awareness and implementing strategies that will raise literacy rates across the board.
We will consider our work done when every mother of a newborn baby understands the importance of raising a brain-stimulated, literate child and has strategies to do so. Our work will be done when every family embraces a culture of reading and communication and when every elementary school implements systems to establish a culture of early literacy success. To accomplish this we need an army of volunteers to step up to add capacity to vital services being provided by hundreds of organizations helping develop literacy skills for people across the entire age spectrum. I know this great community will rise to the challenge.