Literacy Campaign Hitting Mississippi Airwaves

Juanita Cooper is the mother of three young girls at Kreole Elementary in Moss Point. She understands how frustrating it can be to teach a child to read.

Juanita Cooper said, "You just have to have patience with them. Because like us, they get tired of things."

That's why the school started the Barksdale Reading Program five years ago. Every week, literacy experts come to the school to train teachers on methods that help children who are struggling with words.  The program is designed for children from Kindergarten to third grade. It targets schools with some of the lowest reading scores on state-wide tests.

Teacher Edna Wells said, "We try to teach them to read so that they develop phonemic awareness. We try to teach them so they will comprehend what it is, the written word. So those are the two biggest strategies."

The youngsters work in groups to build reading skills, and those who need extra help get one-on-one tutoring. Teachers say the latest state test scores prove the program is working.

Wells said, "The students that I had last year, most of them were low achievers. With the interventions, all of them, except 4 of them, were proficient and above. So they did exceptionally well."

There's even a liaison who works with parents, like Juanita Cooper, to share the joys of reading at home.

Cooper said "Reading is a foundation for everything, and if you start them out right, they'll have a better future."

Former Netscape CEO James Barksdale and his wife Sally donated $100 million to create the Barksdale Reading Institute. Of that amount, the Moss Point School District received a little over $1 million. The program is now in place in 70 schools throughout Mississippi.