By Sara Amin
Born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, Arianne Watkins spent her childhood with her mother and maternal grandparents. She was exposed to reading, writing, puzzles and games (colored rings as a baby, then Checkers, Chinese Checkers, Scrabble, Taboo, Boggle, etc). Music was also a big part of her development – her grandparents often played classical, opera and gospel music.
Arianne enjoyed school, but felt ostracized for her correct use of the English language and expansive vocabulary. “I was the teacher’s pet. I finished my eighth grade year as valedictorian,” she remembers. Her one struggle? Reading comprehension. She thinks back, “I guess I wasn’t really taught to monitor my reading and to slow down if you’re not picking up what the author is saying. I’m a slow reader now, but at least I’ve figured out what works for me.”
After grade school, Arianne went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree and two teaching certificates. Her family, realizing her potential, continues to push her to earn her Master’s degree, but Arianne feels strongly that she’ll only spend the money on a Master’s degree when she recognizes its full impact on her career. With her plans to return to the classroom, there is not an urgent need for a Master’s degree at this time and it won’t pay for itself!
As an adult, Arianne loves to read, do puzzles and otherwise challenge her brain. Her family is similar, but most prefer to read the news – getting into politics, business, finance and history – while Arianne prefers murder mystery/conspiracy novels, leaning more toward the arts and enjoyment aspect of literature. She appreciates the confidence and competence that literacy has given her, unafraid to speak her mind and share her thoughts.
When asked about the literacy crisis in Houston, Arianne thinks there are some challenges in the classroom. Students are passed on to other grades without competency mastery. There is also a lack of rich literacy in households. She wonders, “If a single mother has to work and literally does not have the time, how can she choose between feeding her kids and teaching them to read? And furthermore, parents may not be completely comfortable with their own literacy.”
Considering the link between literacy and poverty, Arianne believes the root of the problem is decades deep. “As a black woman, I think about today and I remember that black slaves, by law, could not be educated. How can you separate that very real history from today? I also realize that many people who are immigrants are leaving places where there is no formal education. How can parents effectively teach and motivate their children and how can kids catch up if they are behind? These are very complex issues. In other words, poverty is not just about being poor. It is a system where there are a lack of necessary resources. Literacy provides access to life.”