Each day after school, HISD bus attendant Betty Beal goes through a special crate full of books, carefully selecting a few to read to two of her student bus riders from Law Elementary School.
Beal is one of 150 support personnel currently assigned to special needs routes in the district and an active member of HISD’s Reading While Riding program, which aims to ensure student success by focusing on students’ literacy and vocabulary development. The program also complements the district’s Literacy By 3 reading initiative, which aims to have every child reading on grade level by the end of third grade.
“I enjoy reading to my students every day and how their faces light up when they see the pictures,” Beal said. “I think the program is beneficial because it starts them off young reading so they will grow up having a love for reading.”
During the week of April 25-29, the HISD Transportation department and the Houston Education Support Personnel Union will celebrate the program by encouraging school bus attendants to read age-appropriate books to students on the way to and from school.
In its second year, the program is designed to incorporate the support personnel that work with special need students outside of the classroom. Each day, HISD buses transport more than 5,000 special needs students. School bus attendants are assigned to special needs students, but also help oversee other children on their bus.
“The drivers are excited about the program. Any way that we can help with student achievement and learning, we want to be able to do our part in this department,” said Tesha Foster, HISD’s Senior Manager for Transportation Terminal and Safety. “Everyone is eager to participate and wanted to know what books we would get this year.”
Houston Education Support Personnel Union President Wretha Thomas, who represents HISD bus drivers and attendants, said the literacy program is beginning to gain attention outside of HISD, with other school districts in Texas expressing interest in starting a similar program.
“We want the community to know that our bus drivers and attendants care about literacy,” Thomas said. “HISD has set the standard on several issues within the last three years and been trailblazers, and this program is one of them.”
Cynthia Cormier, a 17-year veteran bus driver for HISD, drives the bus to which Beal is assigned. She said she enjoys working with Beal in the fight to end illiteracy in Houston.
“I love kids, so when HISD came up with the idea to pilot the program, I was behind it,” Cormier said. “Everything that we do is from the heart because these are my babies.”