by Michael Tomlin-Crutchfield

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, thousands of families across the Houston-metropolitan area suffered unimaginable loss. The Houston Area Urban League [HAUL] stepped in to help with recovery efforts by distributing supplies to survivors of the store, and by using books to bring families closer together.

“The response to Harvey has been tremendous. We’ve received donations from people around the world with enough supplies to fill a warehouse,” said John Robison, Director of Education & Youth Development for the Houston Area Urban League. “Every week I host family literacy events to provide students with hands-on tutoring and to give the parents the knowledge they need, and books, to help develop a love for reading in their children. The events have been a perfect place to also hand out supplies.”

Robinson, who hosted over 80 literacy nights last year, said that each event draws an average of 150 to 300 families.

“Our event at Judson Robinson Jr. Elementary brought out over 600 people. We handed out clothing, blankets, towels, toiletries and books. Our main objective is to get parents reading to their children at home.” said Robinson.

Like many inner-city school districts, Houston Independent School District has struggled to maintain a high literacy rate throughout its school system. Through a partnership with Scholastic, the Houston Area Urban League has operated a program called “Read and Rise” the district has seen improvement. A case study conducted by Scholastic after the program’s first five years showed that:

  • HISD cut its dropout rates by over 3 percent to an all-time low of 12%
  • The graduation rate in HISD increased to an all-time high
  • Three HISD high schools were featured on Newsweek’s “America’s Best High Schools” list

“Literacy is the key to a student exceling in any subject in school and having a shot at succeeding in life,” said Robinson. “We’ve got to help parents understand how to support their children at home. At our events, we make sure every parent goes home with enough books to start a home library and the skills to help their children over hurdles reading.”

Robinson, who has been a consultant with Scholastic since 2010, has expanded the program from HISD to local social services offices, and even hospitals when children are first born.

“Our [HAUL] signature education program is Project Ready, but long before a student reaches middle school we want to ensure that kids are off to a good start with reading. “said Robinson. “We go to the WIC centers, the hospitals and clinics with expecting mothers, to emphasize the importance of building an interest in reading early on, including reading to a baby in the mother’s womb. We want kids to ready to go by the time they reach Project Ready age and beyond.” In a climate where schools are increasingly leaning on machine learning and tablets to connect with students, the HAUL isn’t shy about leveraging technology to prepare children for the world of reading.

“We have a partnership with IBM where we support over 2,000 children in Headstart programs by installing over 80 computers “Little Tikes” equipped with reading, STEM and social studies programs in over 40 locations throughout the Houston area,” said Robinson.

Robinson has spent over a decade leading literacy training programs in schools across the country and believes that scaling is more than possible.

“Literacy matters, and once we (as a nation) own that, anything is possible.”

For more information about Read and Rise and literacy programming contact Robinson at, (281) 220-6012 HAUL EDYD or email