12:03 PM

Increasing Literacy and Connectivity: It All Begins With UHD’s Bilingual E-Library


By Marie Jacinto

What’s not to love about a project to improve literacy and connectivity for Houston’s Hispanic community that involves children, parents, PTOs/PTAs, in-service bilingual/ESL teachers, and UHD pre-service teachers and students in other areas of study? 

This two-year project to expand the UHD bilingual e-library is the brainchild of Dr. Irene Chen, Professor of Education in the Department of Urban Education in UHD’s College of Public Service, and Dr. Maria Bhattacharjee, a former UHD Associate Professor of Education. They recently received notice from the U.S. Department of Commerce that their project proposal was awarded $2,470,225.

The project promises to have a dramatic impact on workforce development and, ultimately, the local economy, as the City of Houston seeks to increase the literacy skills of Houstonians by one level. The benefits of this project will extend beyond Houston, since access to the bilingual e-library will be available worldwide.

“During the development of our 2022-2027 Strategic Plan: A New Paradigm, we set our sights on becoming an Anchor Institution for the region,” stated President Blanchard. “This project epitomizes what it means for UHD to be an anchor for the city—not only through an accessible, online library specifically targeting Houston’s Latino community, but also as a resource and workforce development tool to grow the local economy significantly.”

According to Houston’s Adult Literacy Blueprint Executive Summary Report, published by the Mayor’s Office for Adult Literacy in partnership with Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, the City of Houston’s economic growth is linked to literacy achievement. The report stated, “Harris County’s economy could grow by $13 billion if adults with low literacy could increase their literacy skills by even one level.” According to the same report, connectivity is another challenge Houstonians need to address. “In Houston, about 142,650 households do not have a computer at home and almost twice that amount, about 267,250 households, do not have broadband internet access.”

The Project

Ten UHD bilingual students and two reading specialists will assist 240 Hispanic families in writing culturally meaningful stories over the two years of the project. These stories will be part of the UHD-upgraded bilingual e-library. Through this interaction, Hispanic families will learn to use the e-library for self-teaching as well as reading and writing with their children at home.

“Teachers in the UHD anchor community also play an essential role in preparing Hispanic individuals for the job market in Houston,” stated Chen. “Therefore, it is crucial to support teachers, too. UHD pre-service teachers and in-service bilingual/ESL teachers at seven elementary schools with high Hispanic enrollment will have the opportunity to participate in the training of reading comprehension strategies using the e-library.”

Furthermore, the plan is to mobilize the Hispanic community by involving the Parent Teacher Organization/Association representatives from each of the seven campuses. They will visit UHD monthly to learn how to prepare their students to complete a bachelor’s degree at UHD and how to use the e-library to support the development of literacy skills. There will be opportunities for all parents at these schools to attend the meetings virtually. Also, 19 students from different programs, such as Urban Education, Communication, and Technology, will work together to create a community of learners that link Hispanic families and pre-service and in-service teachers to the e-library and each other.

“The expectation is that as Hispanic families use the e-library, they will increase their literacy skills levels and abilities to self-teach using technology,” stated Bhattacharjee. “These skill sets, in turn, will increase the number of Hispanic individuals prepared to enter the labor market in Houston.”

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.