‘Helping children, families and communities thrive’: Glasscock School celebrates popular education outreach program

School Literacy and Culture Director Karen Capo speaks during the program's annual end-of-year celebration event May 15, 2024.
Attendees of the School Literacy and Culture (SLC) program's annual end-of-year celebration event mingle on May 15, 2024.
Attendees mingle before the School Literacy and Culture's annual end-of-year celebration ceremony begins May 15. (Photos by Jeff Fitlow)

Family, friends, fellow educators and funders came together May 15 to celebrate this year’s achievements in the School Literacy and Culture (SLC) program within Rice University’s Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies during its annual end-of-year celebration event.

Part of Rice for more than 30 years, SLC is an education outreach program that promotes effective teaching through rigorous professional educational initiatives that emphasize early literacy, childhood development, writing and culture.

Glasscock School of Continuing Studies Dean Robert Bruce.
Robert Bruce

During the ceremony, attendees celebrated the achievements of those participating in SLC’s yearlong mentoring resident programs, including Classroom Storytelling (23 completers from public, private and charter schools throughout Houston), Early Literacy Leadership Academy, Rice Oral and Written Language Laboratories (OWL Labs) and Advance Leadership Teams.

“All of you have been through commencement ceremonies before,” Robert Bruce, dean of the School of Continuing Studies, told the honorees. “(Commencement) is not the end. It’s just the beginning, and the path forward is one where you are helping children, families and communities thrive. Your beginning will end up not helping hundreds of kids — it will be thousands, and for that, I applaud you.”

During the event, SLC Director Karen Capo honored Pansy Gee, who will be retiring this summer after being an integral part of the program for over 30 years. A longtime elementary school teacher, Gee served as an instructor of elementary initiatives. She was “involved in just about any program SLC has ever cared to run,” Capo said. This included classroom storytelling, cultural conversations, creative writing camps and writing in the arts.

School Literacy and Culture Director Karen Capo.
Karen Capo

“We love the unique and amazing community-building activities she brings to our leadership group each month. And more importantly, we respect the wisdom and the truth that she brings,” Capo said.

“School Literacy and Culture is a community,” Gee said. “Please continue to be that community, which nurtures relationships, listens and gives those nudges to move everybody forward. Virginia Satir said it best in her poem, ‘Making Contact.’ I believe the greatest gift I can conceive of having from anyone is to be seen by them, heard by them, to be understood and touched by them. And the greatest gift I can give is to see, hear, understand and to touch another person. When this is done, contact is made.”

SLC also recognized Jaymee Herrington, a prekindergarten teacher at Cimarron Elementary School who was recently named Katy ISD teacher of the year. Herrington is also a part of Glasscock’s Early Literacy Leadership Academy program.

“Every student you encounter has a story to tell,” Herrington said after being honored. “It is your task to discover it, help them tell it and bring it to life. Tonight, I would like to encourage everyone sitting here to reflect on your story. Everyone has a story, and everyone deserves a happy ending like I have found as a proud early childhood educator.”

Pansy Gee
Pansy Gee

Educators from local schools spoke about how beneficial SLC programs have been to their students’ reading comprehension and vocabulary skills and development.

Representatives from the Ninfa Laurenzo Early Childhood Center said their prekindergarten students’ vocabulary passing rate jumped from 23% to 92% this year, which Ninfa Laurenzo principal Janet Benavides said she directly attributes to the school’s adoption of SLC practices and programs.

“As children immerse themselves in stories, they absorb the rhythm of language, expand their vocabulary and develop an intuitive understanding of narrative structure,” said Vanessa Quezada Vierra, assistant director of bilingual early literacy in the SLC program. “These skills form the foundation upon which their journey as readers and writers is built.

Jaymee Herrington
Jaymee Herrington

“Research also tells us that storytelling cultivates empathy and emotional intelligence. Through the eyes of characters facing challenges and triumphs, children learn to navigate complex emotions, relate to others and understand different perspectives. This deep emotional connection with stories fosters a love for reading that transcends the confines of the classroom.”

SLC is part of the Center for Education at Rice, which serves as the engine for theory into practice for pre-K through 12 outreach and impact.

With a focus on core principles of access, preparation and equity, the center seeks to advance knowledge related to pre-K through 12 teaching and learning to positively impact public schools in the Houston metropolitan area. In collaboration with clinical education faculty, Houston education practitioners and Rice researchers, the center extends Rice’s commitment to provide high quality education by preparing and further developing Houston-area educational leaders, so they may raise expectations and create opportunities for Houston-area pre-K through 12 students.

To learn more about SLC, click here.

Attendees listen during Glasscock's annual end-of-year celebration for School Literacy and Culture May 15, 2024.

Attendees gather and mingle before Glasscock's annual end-of-year celebration for School Literacy and Culture May 15, 2024.Awards are given out during Glasscock's annual end-of-year celebration for School Literacy and Culture May 15, 2024.