Bright Spots are written and produced by the Campaign to showcase the work in Grade-Level Reading communities to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016. Continue reading below or download a PDF version.
How does a small rural community with limited resources manage to offer several early childhood programs that promote literacy and school readiness? On the Texas Gulf Coast, Palacios (pop. 4,661) is doing it by making the most of what it’s got.
“Working in a tiny community has advantages. Everybody knows each other. We’re working with friends and family,” says Margaret Doughty, a founding member of the the , the lead organization for the community’s grade-level reading campaign, which is embedded in a broad effort addressing all residents’ literacy needs.
After a local task force worked for 18 months to bring community organizations together and develop a plan addressing the community’s high poverty and low adult literacy, the Palacios Community Hub opened in February 2014 in a city-donated building downtown.
A community learning center providing a much-needed central location for educational, recreational, health and family activities, the Hub also supports several national early childhood programs available locally including:
- , which has provided more than 74,000 free and low-cost books to children in Palacios and nearby since 2004. A local offshoot, Books for Babies, which provides children’s books and parenting information to new mothers and fathers. The Hub provides storage for books (formerly stored in residents’ garages) and a meeting place for the program’s board.
- , begun locally in 2014, which helps pediatricians coach low-income parents on the importance of reading to their children.
- , begun locally in 2012, which provides apps and technology support to boost at-risk children’s ability to learn from literacy- and math-based educational programs.
Early childhood programs often operate in isolation in large cities. In Palacios, by necessity, they are more connected and coordinated, serving many of the same children and sometimes sharing the same personnel. “It’s a beautiful consolidation of effort,” says Hub Executive Director Brandi West, who helps with all three programs.'
Children and their families in Palacios also benefit from a “high touch” environment that includes the contributions of the local library and child care providers. “It produces a cushiony effect, wrapping around those children so almost every week they’re involved in activities through one of those programs,” says Doughty.
A shrimping port surrounded by rice and cotton fields, Palacios has no community college, social services office or bus service. Almost 97 percent of pre-K through third grade public school students are economically disadvantaged; 67 percent are Hispanic, and 32 percent have English language barriers.
Securing outside grants has been challenging, says Doughty. But Palacios is fortunate to have two small funders, The Trull Foundation and the Palacios Area Fund, that support early childhood programs and the Hub’s broader work.
Doughty also points to the community’s “generous spirit” and committed “movers and shakers” such as the school superintendent, The Trull Foundation executive director and a Vietnamese community leader who all serve on the Hub's board. “Our leaders are actively engaged in the work,” says Doughty, noting that some serve on multiple boards.
Jan Hunter, Palacios Housing Authority executive director, got involved because she was troubled by witnessing several generations of the same low-income families seeking help – and by data showing that only 43 percent of Palacios residents over age 18 have a GED or high school diploma. “That scared the heck out of us,” she says. “How can we stop this? How can we break this cycle?”
The community opted for a two-generation response, providing programs for children and adults, with vital support from major players such as government, funders, the business community, socials services, educators and families. And Palacios embraced the GLR Campaign agenda, initially as part of a three-county coalition and recently, as a city-based coalition.
“We’ve evolved,” says Doughty, but the same concern remains. “Rural families need the same level of support as urban families,” she says. “Very challenged small rural counties want to move forward.”
For more information, contact Margaret Doughty at 361-972-9990 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos: Palacios Community Hub; Publication date: Winter 2015. To nominate a community to be featured as a Bright Spot, please contact Betsy Rubiner at email@example.com.
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