In a 2014 article published by Time magazine, San Antonio was designated the “5th Least Literate City in the United States."However, a lot as changed in the city since that year with the help of intensive research and widespread community efforts.
Illiteracy is the product of many factors desperately seeking awareness. The affects of illiteracy on an individual can derail their success. As the number of illiterate individuals grow, the San Antonio community is at risk for increased high school dropouts leading to higher percentages of crime, poverty, and segregation.
In May 2013, the American Psychological Association released a study connecting poverty rates and high school dropouts rates. 20 percent of school age children in the US live in poverty and it is estimated that a little over 1.1 million United States citizens did not earn diplomas in 2012.
Rewind 10 years earlier to a 2003 study Berkeley conducted on “The Effect of Education on Crime: Evidence from Prison Inmates, Arrests, and Self-Reports.” The findings suggest that an individual’s level of education directly affects their likely hood to commit crimes.
Among the reasons provided include, “schooling increases individual wage rates, thereby increasing the opportunity costs of crime,” and, “schooling may also affect individual tastes for crime by directly affecting the psychic costs of breaking the law.”
Since 2014, San Antonio propelled forward in efforts to directly address the issue and focus on educating the future of the city, our children.
“If they can’t read the text, they can’t solve the math problem or science question,” said Mary Flannigan, Director of Communications and Partnerships at San Antonio Youth Literacy.
According to Flannigan, the ability to read at level by the third grade often determines the likelihood they’ll graduate high school.
“This is why we focus on 2nd graders; we want to catch them before they hit that crucial turning point,” Flannigan said.
San Antonio Youth Literacy (SAYL) is one organization working to educate children as a means to reverse the cycle of crime and poverty. They address the fact that 40 percent of Bexar County inmates do not contain a high school diploma, and 68 percent of arrests in the US are of illiterate individuals.
The program works to provide Title 1 schools (institutions that have a high percentage of low income families) with reading assistance to 2nd graders through one-on-one reading buddies and mentors. Their goal is to see “every child in South Texas enter 3rd grade reading at level.”
“We can look at the different racial groups but it truly comes down to more of an issue of poverty, that’s how we target our schools,” said Dr. Deborah Valdez, SAYL Executive Director.
Still, some areas in San Antonio prove harder to reach, specifically the South, West, and East neighborhoods. They still require the most assistance but often receive the least.
In the heart of San Antonio’s West Side sits San Anto Cultural Arts, an organization formed in 1993 by Manuel Castillo, Cruz Ortiz, and Juan Miguel Ramos to provide educational and creative support to inner city youth and the surrounding community. They create murals, publish a community newspaper, and conduct workshops all in an effort to educate and motivate the community.
“San Anto hopefully offers an alternative way of learning, like thinking critically in a creative way that’s a little bit more open,” said Adriana Garcia, Interim Director at San Anto Cultural Arts. “When they create a mural we ask, ‘Why are you creating a mural?’ ‘What are the images on there?’ ‘What do they represent?’ And ‘Why are we putting them on there?’”
A 2015 livability study, published in mySA, ranked the worst neighborhoods in San Antonio with the worst crime rates and the least educated individuals.
“Our illiteracy rates are in part correlated with the West Side’s social and economic existence. This is the West Side and it’s been underserved for a while."
For example, San Antonio’s West Side has an annual median income range between $19,000 to $35,000 a year and a less than 50 percent high school graduation rate. Additionally, there are roughly 15 neighborhoods on the West Side alone where the crime rate is 50 percent higher than San Antonio’s average.
The United States federal poverty guidelines for 2015 constitutes that a family of four is living at poverty with a $24,250 income.
In 2009 the average household income for San Antonio came in at $51,540 while the US average estimated at $62,363.
“Our illiteracy rates are in part correlated with the West Side’s social and economic existence. This is the West Side and it’s been underserved for a while. I hate to say it but the rate of those that attend college is very low. And those that attend college and push through to get a higher education, well, are they coming back?” Garcia stressed, “What are the expectations that the city and people in general have for the kids and those who live in this area? Yes you’re maybe expected to go to school but then you’re just expected to go into the system.”
Garcia reviewed the many factors affecting an individual child’s education. Factors many middle and upper class residents often take for granted.
“It’s important to think about what issues are facing our youth. Issues of domestic violence, you don’t know what their home life is like, if there’s drug use, teenage pregnancy, hunger, or those that don’t have enough money to buy a clean shirt or glasses to see the board; all of that affects your behavior in a school setting,” Garcia said.
Pamela Toman, Co-founder and Executive Director of SAReads, referenced a study recently completed by Christine Drennon, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Trinity University. According to Toman, Drennon discusses how “San Antonio’s stark inequalities in academic opportunity and achievement are rooted in the city’s history of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic discrimination”.
Dr. Christine Drennon finds historical data that reveals why San Antonio came to be the most economically segregated city in the country. Racial Deed Restrictions, introduced in the 1920s, were deeds prohibiting minorities to own or rent houses in predominately “white” neighborhoods.
They merged the school districts and the “non-white” neighborhoods were left behind. They were denied lending opportunities, community resources, and, similar to today, had schools that were vastly underserved.
SAReads aims to reach low-income schools in order to provide students, teachers, and parents with the necessary resources to achieve optimum literacy levels. They provide books, reading tutors, family engagement opportunities, and learning tools as well as a literacy academy for teachers.
Right now SAReads is partnered with the under-sourced Southwest ISD and their 11 elementary schools that also face high levels of ethnic and economic segregation.
A report published by American Progress lends a progressive approach to the issues of school funding. Their proposed solution may seem ingenuous, but somehow has not been implemented in America; it is, however, successfully practiced in Canada today. The report states, “Equity in school funding means that all districts and schools receive resources based on the educational needs of their specific students. Whether education funds are from federal, state, or local governments, they are allocated based on the differing needs of students and not based on the wealth of a district or school.”
“I don’t think there’s just one thing contributing to illiteracy,” Flannigan said. “That would be great if there was because then we could just focus on that one aspect and make huge changes; but it’s multi-layered for sure.”
Based on the findings of San Antonio's many grassroots organizations, the issues of poverty, lack of school funding, and segregation are all overwhelmingly critical factors hindering our city's children, and have created a vicious cycle connecting the uneducated and illiterate to a life of crime.
Each of the organizations mentioned are working to promote necessary change to leave that title of "5th Least Literate City" behind. Everyday they face the reality of turning schools and children away due to the high demand and limited resources. However, each organization has a plan of action for future growth.
“Literacy is the key to a strong education,” Toman said. “It is the most important skill.