School Literacy and Culture celebrates 25th anniversary

Program receives $1.5 million grant to improve early childhood literacy in Houston

There was ample reason to rejoice in Rice Memorial Center’s Grand Hall Oct. 17 on the occasion of Rice School Literacy and Culture’s (SLC) 25th anniversary celebration.

Just that morning, Phillips 66, an energy manufacturing and logistics company, announced it had awarded SLC a $1.5 million grant to help improve literacy among children in the Houston area. Since 1988, SLC, a part of Rice’s Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies, has been offering in-depth professional development that empowers teachers to translate current research on how young children learn to read and write into classroom practice.

Kristi DesJarlais, Phillips 66 manager of corporate brand and community investments, left, and Karen Capo, director of Rice's School Literacy and Culture, announced the creation of the Early Literacy Leadership Academy. Photos by Mary Wemple.

Now, SLC and Phillips 66 are partnering to solve the problem of illiteracy among youth in the Houston area by developing the Early Literacy Leadership Academy. This new center for expert teaching will help educators gain expertise as innovators who promote higher-order thinking skills, second-language learning and relationships that impact children’s self-regulation and autonomy.

The Early Literacy Leadership Academy will consist of 40 teachers identified through an intensive application and interview process; they will participate in two-and-a-half years of intensive classroom and seminar-based education and leadership training designed to help them become innovative thinkers, learners and leaders on their own campuses and within the Greater Houston community.

“We look forward to coupling Rice University’s long-standing tradition of excellence in education with Phillips 66’s commitment to community as we create this innovative forum for developing early childhood teacher leaders,” said Karen Capo, director of Rice’s School Literacy and Culture. “Together we will think critically about educational practices serving our community’s children, teachers and families and explore ways to make them more effective.”

University Representative Y. Ping Sun

“Phillips 66 is committed to improving lives through a deep commitment to the communities where we live and work,” said Karen Tripp, Phillips 66 vice president of communications and public affairs. “Through our partnership with Rice University’s School Literacy and Culture, our efforts to support literacy will provide Houston-area teachers with the skills needed to develop the highly talented workforce of the future.”

Y. Ping Sun, university representative and wife of Rice President David Leebron, lauded SLC for the impact it has had on children’s lives in Houston. She noted that the program started 25 years ago with four teachers and 66 students and has now grown into 96 teachers serving 12,000 students each year. “You have helped (the students) master the tools of learning,” Sun said. “Thanks to all of you, they will have a solid foundation as they embark on their life’s journey.”

Glasscock School Dean Mary McIntire

Glasscock School Dean Mary McIntire ’75 said SLC’s importance will continue to grow in light of Houston’s changing demographics and the increase of English language learners in the city’s schools. “Their work with early childhood teachers is a national model of excellence,” she said. “Developing and mentoring early literacy leaders within our Houston schools is so critical to the future of our city.”

McIntire also acknowledged SLC’s many community collaborators who are critical to the program’s success, including Writers in the Schools, Houston Grand Opera, Gabriela Mistral Center for Early Childhood in Houston Independent School District, Ridgemont Early Childhood Center in Fort Bend Independent School District, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Menil Collection and Collaborative for Children.

For more information about SLC, visit

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.