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Coalition chief: Low literacy is a social issue

Odessa American - 3/24/2023

Mar. 23—There is a direct correlation between low literacy and poverty, food insecurity, and crime, among other societal issues, John Trischitti III, executive director of the Literacy Coalition of the Permian Basin, told the Early Childhood Action Network Thursday.

ECAN, an offshoot of the Education Partnership of the Permian Basin, met at Region 18 Education Service Center.

"Those things go together," Trischitti said. "They cannot be separated. It makes it more comfortable for us to separate those things and silo those things. But the reality is all of that is the same ..."

Trischitti said low literacy is a social issue and students come out of school unable to read.

He added the Literacy Coalition has worked with the drug court and teen court to provide literacy assessments to their clients. "It's a captive audience for us; pun intended. They can provide those ... When we get a literacy assessment of those clients, we give that back to the judge, they are more likely to be able to create a plan for that individual that they can stick to, to cut down on recidivism," Trischitti said.

When they get out of the court system, they can become productive members of society and add to the tax base, he added.

"That's a win for the community and for everyone involved," Trischitti said.

Not being able to read prevents you from passing truck driving tests and reading things like prescriptions, doctor's notes and other basic items.

One-third of kids that are born in poverty stay there.

"About a fifth of the world's population doesn't have the ability to read and write, two-thirds of which are women and children. Disproportionately, women and children are at a disadvantage when it comes to education. ... Three out of four students who exit third grade not on grade level never catch up. That is the line of demarcation, people. That's why ... ECAN is so important. Ninety-percent of brain development happens before 5," Trischitti said.

He added that that's why the Education Partnership of the Permian Basin's POWER Bag initiative is also necessary.

Trischitti said the Literacy Coalition has now taken over POWER Bags, which are distributed to parents of newborns at the hospitals. The purpose of the initiative is to encourage the community to read, speak and interact with children, as frequently as possible, beginning at birth.

The coalition plans to enhance and grow the content of the bags. POWER stands for Power of Words and Early Reading.

"There's so much that needs to be done with kindergarten readiness, because if the kids start behind in kindergarten ... it's a big push to get them to grade level by third grade when it really matters; when the standardized testing starts and then beyond. When we start to talk about kids that are interfacing with the juvenile court system, or that are problem kids, those kids are these kids. We're doing them a disservice. Ninety-percent of welfare recipients are high school dropouts or low literate," he said.

"The data just continues to prove out everything that we think and know about. I was talking a little about Turning the Page. This is something that I'm personally passionate about. Basically, over the last 20 years we've increased prison spending 570%, but the amount on public education, 33% in the same time. I wonder what happens if we flip those percentages. The United States Federal Bureau of Prisons forecasts the number of jails that they need to budget for the next 10 years based upon the third grade reading level in this country. It is indicative of everything that we do," Trischitti said.

He said America only leads the world in two statistics — the number of people that are incarcerated and the amount spent on defense.

"America does not lead the world in any measurable education outcome anymore. And so there's this rose-colored glasses view of what's going on in this country when it comes to literacy and education. And we have to be able to have that hard conversation, and I acknowledge it's a hard one. It's hard to say we failed the generation of kids and now they're adults and they can't read. But we have to be able to have that conversation or we're never going to change anything," Trischitti said.

These conversations make people uncomfortable and so they put them aside and think of them as someone else's problem, he said.

"Until we can address some of those things we're really not going to ever change anything," Trischitti said.


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