H-E-B fills pre-school reading gap with Read 3 Family Literacy program

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(May 25, 2012) -- To improve literacy rates across the state, H-E-B is encouraging families to get engaged in their toddler's education through the Read 3 Family Literacy Workshop.

On Thursday, May 17, H-E-B celebrated the graduation of 115 families from the Read 3 Family Literacy Workshop, six weeks of classes designed to help parents and three- and four-year-olds get prepared for success in kindergarten. State Rep. Mike Villarreal delivered the keynote address at a ceremony at the Boggess Center at Harlandale Independent School District, one of the lead partners in the H-E-B program.

Similar to a high school or college graduation, each family walked across the stage and received a certificate of completion. The ceremony was designed not just to recognize the families' accomplishments in completing the program, but also to give them the experience of crossing a stage so they can envision that future for their children.

During the six-week workshop, Harlandale ISD, San Antonio ISD and AVANCE San Antonio provided classroom space and lead teachers to supervise student volunteers from the UTSA College of Education and Human Development as they introduced toddlers to numbers, colors, shapes and letters of the alphabet while H-E-B dietitians taught caregivers how to cook and eat more healthily in the home.

At last week's graduation ceremony, UTSA College of Education and Human Development Dean Betty Merchant praised the families for their commitment to the program.

"The Read 3 program is all about engaging kids early," said Merchant. "The more parents consistently read to their children while they're young, the more prepared the children will be when it's time for them to start kindergarten."

Classes stressed Read 3's central message: Parents should read to their children at least three times a week to help build vocabulary and letter-recognition skills that give children the tools they need to succeed in school. The program also strengthens social skills and helps acclimate young children to a classroom setting before they reach kindergarten.

"Parents are their child's first and best teacher," said Kate Rogers, H-E-B vice president for communication and engagement. "So much brain development happens before the age of five that children cannot wait until kindergarten to begin the learning process."

Rogers also said that children learn and perform better in school when they have healthy food in their stomachs, hence the program's nutritional component. Participants received healthy recipes, free children's books to add to their home libraries, a backpack and t-shirts.

"If parents embrace this concept fully, we could see huge shifts in early literacy skills," Rogers said. This summer, H-E-B will compress the workshop into three anda half weeks and offer it as a ramp-up program for children about to enter pre-kindergarten or kindergarten for the first time.

The H-E-B Read 3 campaign is the brainchild of H-E-B CEO and Chairman Charles Butt, who has a strong commitment to education. In Texas, almost one third of the state's children entering the first grade are living in poverty while one in four Texas pre-school children is not read to on a regular basis.

The campaign has three basic components -- the incorporation of basic literacy and learning into the shopping experience, access to affordable books and community outreach.

Over the last six months, H-E-B has placed literacy centers in 13 of its stores around the state. These centers serve as a community hub for in-store literary events such as story time, character appearances and book signings with popular authors. To promote access to books, H-E-B plans to continue a book drive launched in September to collect one million books, give books with its popular Combo Locos and Meal Deals and offer a discount on a featured book title each month.