Dr. Julie Baker Finck with Gloria Cavazos and Jeff McCanna of HISD.

I recently had the honor of addressing approximately 1,200 teachers at Houston ISD's New Teacher Academy. Nearly half the teachers present that day will be entering the profession for the first time, and for many, Houston will become their new home. 

In preparing my remarks on the importance of their role as teachers, I reminisced about my first year as a middle school instructor more than 20 years ago. At the time, excitement, anticipation, and even a bit of anxiety rushed through me. Would I be an outstanding teacher? Would I get help if I needed it? Would I be able to support more than 100 teenagers each day?

I also was reminded of the teachers who have left a long-lasting impression on me because they contributed to my success and influenced who I became as a person. Teachers work tirelessly each and every day and help shape our children, empower families and build communities. A quality education system is the heartbeat of a thriving city, and teachers play a crucial role in determining its vitality.

As our state and city's largest school district welcomes a new superintendent and strives to increase academic performance following a $165M budget cut for the 2016-2017 school year, we must do our part as a community to ensure that we have systems in place to support the educational process. Valuing the voices of teachers and recognizing them for their countless contributions are an essential part of this system of support.

Please join me in welcoming the new leaders and educators to our school districts. I encourage you to reach out to a school in your neighborhood to see how you may serve as a volunteer or supporter.


Julie Baker Finck, Ph.D.

Community Comes Together to Support Children in Need

Top: Houston Symphony musician and PwC volunteers get kids excited by integrating music with literacy. Bottom: Target employees serve as mentors as they work on reading and writing skills. Photos courtesy of David Einsel.
Did you know that the achievement gap for economically disadvantaged children is more likely to widen if they do not have access to summer learning programs and resources? 

This is the reason the  Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation teamed up with  Phillips 66, the  Houston Area Urban League, the  Houston Independent School District, and the Houston Symphony Orchestra to host Summer Reading Challenge Camps for more than 400 children in communities around Highland Heights, Kashmere Gardens, Atherton and Benbrook elementary schools. Each camp kicked off with a family literacy night for parents to learn effective strategies and receive books and other resources to support their children's literacy development.

The curriculum for the camps, developed by the Houston Area Urban League and the Houston Symphony Orchestra, reinforced academic content standards in reading and writing. During the camps, kindergarten through second-grade students had the unique opportunity to interact with community-embedded musicians from the Houston Symphony. They led interactive music classes designed to influence the children's language proficiency and cognitive development.

We are very grateful to our host partners and to the nearly 300 volunteers who facilitated learning activities and mentored children attending the camps. Employees and interns from  Jack & Jill of AmericaJP Morgan ChaseNRGPricewaterhouseCoopersPhillips 66Schlumberger, and  Target all served as volunteers. Be sure to check out the stories section of our website to read about some of the incredible volunteers.

The 2016 Summer Reading Challenge Camps were a testament to the power of service and demonstrate how the community is joining together to increase literacy rates.

Photos courtesy of David Einsel.

The Salvation Army Program Supports Reading at Family Residence

Women's Auxiliary member reads with
Family Residence Children.

The Salvation Army Women's Auxiliary  is the volunteer, educational, and fundraising arm of the Salvation Army in the Greater Houston Area Command. The Auxiliary sponsors numerous initiatives to enhance the lives of Houston citizens by meeting them at their point of need and also by providing funds for a variety of projects. The Salvation Army has proudly been serving the less fortunate members of the Houston community since 1889.

Each summer the Salvation Army Women's Auxiliary assists with the summer reading program at the  Salvation Army's Family Residence . Family residence is a housing facility with programs designed to transition homeless women and families back into the community. The summer reading program initiative strives to motivate these already at-risk children to maintain their reading levels in the off-school season. The summer reading program is an eight-week project during which the children turn in book reports each week and in return receive new books to read and keep.

After just four weeks, approximately 700 books have been distributed to toddlers, children and youth through 12th grade. The Auxiliary caps off the eight-week project with a party, certificates of achievement and prizes for top readers. The Family Residence shelter is giving these families a safe haven with counseling and offers of opportunities for a better life. The Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation is proud to provide support for this important program and wishes to thank members of the Salvation Army Women's Auxiliary for recognizing the importance of summer reading and giving of their time and resources to change lives through the Family Residence Summer Reading program. They are all points of light.

Five Back to School Tips for Parents

Summer is drawing to an end and soon kids will be heading back to school. Here are some simple ways that parents can help their children be successful during the school year.

1.  Get your child ready for the routine of school. This means begin getting her to bed and waking her up in the morning at the appropriate time necessary for adequate sleep and an on-time school arrival.

2.  Visit your child's school. Make time to tour the school and meet the principal and your child's teacher(s). Establish a relationship with them. Ask about your child's daily schedule, learn about academic expectations of your child, obtain a school supply list and find out ways you can take an active part in your child's learning and development.

3.  Be sure your child is healthy. Take your child to the pediatrician for a physical and update any required immunizations. Have your child's eyes examined and purchase corrective lenses if your child needs them to see clearly. Healthy bodies and minds need healthy eating, so be sure your child eats three good meals a day, especially breakfast.

4.  Create a home learning environment. Find a space in your home that is conducive to your child completing homework, studying, reading, and engaging with you in learning. Be supportive and encourage and praise your child's accomplishments.

5.  Make reading a habit. Schedule at least 20 minutes every day to read to or with your child. Reading will help her further her oral language development, advance her vocabulary, increase her comprehension level, and build her self-confidence. Reading together also helps build a bond that will last a lifetime.

Volunteer Points of Light

Nancy Perez with Reading Camp student.
Roshan Patel at Benbrook Elementary.
Click Here to read Nancy's Story.
Click Here to read Roshan's Story.
Nancy and Roshan are just two of the many volunteers that dedicated their time at the  Summer Reading Camps . Though they work for different companies, attended different schools, and come from different backgrounds, they share a common passion: giving back to their community through literacy.

"Volunteering for a camp with a focus on literacy felt like a cause close to home," said Nancy. "English is my second language, and at one time I felt the same struggles that these children are going through. Mastering reading, writing, and grammar skills is not easy, but I used the strategies that helped me get to where I am now, and I hope to make a difference in their learning skills."
A Letter From Departing AmeriCorps VISTA Member Ashley Danna

When I was a kid, I knew I wanted to change the world, no matter how insignificant that change might be. Just like any other millennial, I wanted to make my mark. My impact. My legacy. It terrified me to think I would leave this world in the same condition it was when I arrived. As an
AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America ("VISTA") member with the
Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, I have felt that I was making a difference and fulfilling my purpose. On some days I was humbled by how insignificant I was in comparison to the darkness that is still prevalent today.

During my service year, I have learned that by creating opportunities for people, there is great potential to set the trajectory for the rest of their lives. In my role at the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, I had the honor of working closely with organizations unwavering in their commitment to transform the trajectory of a person's life by providing opportunities they would not otherwise have had coming from a low-income neighborhood. Likewise, through the Foundation's Blueprint for Community Action approach, I was in constant awe of the powerful work being done through organizations collectively working to create sustainable impact.
Robert F. Kennedy once said, "Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. ... Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

At the end of the day, I know that I was able to make my mark. My impact. My legacy. Nevertheless, there is so much more to be done, and if each of us can continue to be that seemingly insignificant ripple of hope, we have the potential to create a million other ripples. Because of this, I can sometimes see the change that is building up our people, our community, and maybe one day - our world.