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 Palacios Community Hub, 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:

  • First Book, 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.
  • Reach Out and Read, begun locally in 2014, which helps pediatricians coach low-income parents on the importance of reading to their children.
  • PBS Kids Ready To Learn, 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 doughtyhrc@gmail.com. Photos: Palacios Community Hub; Publication date: Winter 2015. To nominate a community to be featured as a Bright Spot, please contact Betsy Rubiner at brubiner@gradelevelreading.net. 

Is your community small and/or rural? Share your GLR experiences in the comments box! 

Want more? Check out:  

Buffalo, New York is a site of the Parent-Child Home Program, which provides two years of intensive, twice-weekly home visits to under-resourced families with children between age 16 months and 4 years. Early literacy specialists provide dialogue to promote language development, cognitive skills and social competencies that help children enter school with the skills to be successful

Camden, New Jersey's Grade-Level Reading Campaign, Born to Read,  launched a volunteer-based one-on-one reading program for preschoolers as part of its multi-faceted early literacy initiative.

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Betsy Rubiner is a writer and senior consultant with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

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Comments

  • We're celebrating Dr. Seuss' Birthday a little late this year... We're anticipating a nice turnout for our Dr. Seuss themed Kids Club on March 22 from 9-10 a.m. The education segment is comparing Dr. Seuss animals to real world animals. Free first book and PBS app for all participants. This would be a great day for a visit!
    • good ideas!
  • Great examples and exciting work! We have also brought First Book, Reach out and Read and the Dolly Parton Library to our community in the past couple of years. Organizations like the Rotary, United Way and Crescent Community Health Center have made reading a priority and are supporting these efforts. As we expand into rural communities we expect these programs to be critical ways to get more books in the hands of young people. We are just beginning work in two rural communities and may "borrow" some ideas from your CSAP! Thanks for sharing this story.
    • Hi Eric - what are your new communities? We are excited to keep up with other rural initiatives. Brandi and I are doing two presentations at the National Center for Families Learning Conference coming up in Houston. We have a 'Town Mouse' and a 'Country Mouse' puppet who will tell the story of the challenges we have faced. Love to see other GLR partners there.
  • What an amazing example of the ways in which a rural community can bring together resources - even when there may not be close proximity or easy access to those resources. The website provides great insight into the vibrancy of the Community Hub and how it manifests its name through learning opportunities for all community members. I would love to learn more about how community members (including the "Palacios Youth Initiative" teens!) are involved in improving early literacy through volunteer tutoring and other activities.
    • Emily - we are really very fortunate to have such a wonderful community even though we face so many rural challenges. We could not manage without our community volunteer teams who give so generously of their time and talent. Our teens volunteer at the Kid's Club by reading, working with craft groups, teaching how to use PBS educational apps and other activities. One lesson we have learned is that an organized Volunteer Center would have been great earlier on in our development! I'm happy to announce that we have been approved for a VISTA Volunteer whose role will be to organize our volunteer activities (outreach, recruitment, orientation, training, tracking, evaluation and appreciation!) in a much more intentional and coordinated manner. If you know anyone who would like to volunteer for a year in our beautiful coastal community please let us know!!
      • Hi Margaret - thank you for sharing the great details about the volunteer teams and the exciting news of your incoming VISTA, which is another great example of how you have been able to bring a valuable national resource to your community! CNCS has an incredible team who can help with your VISTA recruitment (I know because I used to work there!) and I also encourage you to connect with the OneStar Foundation http://onestarfoundation.org/ if you haven't yet - the team there can also help make great connections with the TX service and volunteerism networks.
        • These sound like great resources, Emily. Thanks for sharing!
  • We have a rural community in Iowa that recently just began the GLR campaign. Your story is very inspiring & we look forward to contacting you for best practices as we grow w/this initiative across Iowa. It is especially exciting to see how the entire community worked together to address ALL of its residents' literacy needs!
  • I love the idea of Palacious County addressing poverty and low adult literacy! So many times we foget about the parent or adult in a childs life. Very smart to bring together comunity organizations to connect and to share resources so everyone is on the same page!
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