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The Goal: Emphasizing Reading From Birth

Mike Fuljenz, President, Universal Coin & Bullion

Kindergarten teachers wish that all their disadvantaged students knew their ABCs, could sound out their ABCs and didn’t have only half of the vocabulary (2900 vs. 5800 words) of other students in their class.   

The key to improving income inequality, crime, employment, self-esteem, community relations, welfare participation and increasing diversity in law enforcement and other areas is improving childhood literacy by the third grade. (From first to third, you learn to read. From fourth grade on, you read to learn.)


#1: If you can’t read on grade level by the third grade, you are four times less likely to graduate on time.  Add poverty to the mix and the student is 13 times less likely to graduate on time.

#2: 37% of fourth graders can’t understand what they read. Those percentages are worse for Hispanics and African-Americans. 

#3: 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning to read.

#4: Half of those aged 16 to 21 who are unemployed are functionally illiterate.

#5: Over 2/3 of welfare recipients, unwed mothers and juveniles and adults incarcerated are illiterate. 

#6: Arizona predicts the need for new prison beds based in part on fourth grade literacy tests.

#7: One in three black boys and one in six Latino boys born in 2001 are predicted to go to prison.

#8: The ratio of age appropriate books per child is 13 to 1 in middle income neighborhoods; it is one book for every 300 children in low income neighborhoods.


The Challenge: Many single mothers with several children are illiterate and may feel overwhelmed.

#1: Provide “read from birth” training and literature in hospitals, clinics, pediatric offices, libraries, churches, schools and other public places.

#2: Provide mothers, fathers, relatives, friends, community centers and newspapers (like Beaumont Enterprise) with an easy-to-read insert covering practical “read from birth” strategies and resources.

#3: Develop programs to continually reinforce the message of ‘reading from birth’ in the community.

#4: Library reading programs for little children, held daily.

#5: Provide quality books with minority lead characters.

#6:  Launch statewide media campaign, like First 5 California, that encourages parents and caregivers to talk, read and sing to babies and toddlers to enhance early brain development.

Success Example: Oprah Winfrey’s grandmother read regularly to her, which helped Oprah later skip grades.

Mike Fuljenz is a former teacher, Diocese of Beaumont school board president and recipient of numerous awards for working with reading-related projects in Beaumont, Texas including the Beaumont Independent School District, the Diocese of Beaumont and Save Our Children.  He has also received top awards from the Numismatic Literary Guild and the Press Club of Southeast Texas.