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Mississippi Reads One Book: Parents’ Role in Children’s Literacy

Mississippi Reads One Book: Parents’ Role in Children’s Literacy
By Caitlin Bonner

Parents are their children’s first educators, teaching them how to walk, how to talk, and how to recognize letters and numbers. While the role is passed on to elementary school teachers when children enter grade school, the role of parents in their education never ends.

“Read to Them” is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to create a culture of literacy in every home. Their data shows the incredible impact of family in children’s development of reading skills. When parents read aloud to their children at home, they are improving their children’s listening comprehension, increasing their vocabulary, and creating a positive mindset that kids will associate with reading.

No matter what topics children choose to study, career paths they take, or passions they find, the ability to read is critical to their success. Yet, millions of kids in the U.S. struggle to read at their own grade level. In Mississippi, 73% of fourth grade students read below their grade level. A mere five years into grade school these children are already falling behind.

Angela Rutherford, director of the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, wants to change these statistics. While scrolling through Twitter, she came upon Kathryn Starke’s feed. She was inspired by Starke’s book, Tackle Reading, and the national literacy initiative based on the book. Knowing how Mississippi loves college football, she reached out to Starke to discuss how to better combat Mississippi’s illiteracy rates.

Starke’s mission to include parents in the process of developing reading skills is augmented through her work with Read to Them. Starke connected Rutherford with Read to Them to brainstorm how the state of Mississippi could create its own community of readers. The result is “Mississippi Reads One Book,” a program patterned after the success of Read to Them programs like “Virginia Reads One Book,” which began in March 2017 and celebrates national Reading Month and Tackle Reading day.

“Mississippi Reads One Book” creates a statewide conversation among students and teachers and, critically, parents. Through the strategy and resources from Read to Them, students will take their books home and engage their parents in reading together. As Mississippi parents read with their kids, they will help their students develop the reading skills that will benefit them the rest of their lives.

As the Director of Programs of “Read to Them”, Bruce Coffey explains, “The secret sauce of family literacy is to create a symbiosis between home and school. When students see their book being read and shared and discussed at home and at school, they are surrounded by the culture of literacy.” Beginning in October 2019, every school community in Mississippi is invited to create that culture by reading The World According to Humphrey together.

As the first installment of “Mississippi Reads One Book” approaches, Angela Rutherford is confident in the results it will have for the students of Mississippi: “Our focus is on ensuring that all children will read on grade-level by the end of third grade. That’s why the Mississippi Campaign for Grade Level Reading believes that “Mississippi Reads One Book” is a fantastically structured opportunity for families across Mississippi to engage in reading together. Even more, for students to receive a book of their own.”

The idea of a celebrity reader has proven to be a major draw for the One State, One Book programs including NFL coaches and athletes, city mayors, and school superintendents. Hosts of HGTV’s “Home Town,” Erin and Ben Napier, will be celebrity readers for the first year of “Mississippi Reads One Book”.

“For our daughter Helen books are a constant. We read to her every day; it’s our special ritual, in the morning, the afternoon, and at the end of the day. She has her own shelf of books and knows the names and covers of all her favorites well. Reading is such a gift to children that shows them how big the world is.”

Helen Napier’s shelf of books exemplifies a culture of literacy. The aim of “Mississippi Reads One Book” is to provide that same culture of literacy to every child in Mississippi.


Caitlin is a rising senior at the University of Richmond studying journalism and world politics and diplomacy. Caitlin is a PR and writing intern at Creative Minds Publications, LLC.

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