UHD and Harmony Public Schools Celebrate Day of Literacy for The Big Read

Approximately 300 high school students explore critical themes of, “A Lesson Before Dying”

HOUSTON (Nov. 17, 2014) – Approximately 300 high school students from seven campuses of Harmony Public Schools (HPS) joined professors and students from the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) last Friday to celebrate The Big Read, a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) initiative.

Prior to this Big Read event, the HPS students read the classic novel, “A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest J. Gaines, a former Distinguished Visiting Professor at UHD.

The HPS students and their English/Language Arts teachers gathered in UHD’s Robertson Auditorium to view a film adaptation of the novel before dividing into groups to discuss important themes of the novel, such as education, race, the role of extended families, crime and prison. Each of the student groups then presented their perceptions of the book and its themes to the assembly.

Addressing the novel’s themes of education, crime and prison, Leigh Van Horn, Ed.D., interim dean of UHD’s College of Public Service, and Judith Harris, Ph.D., assistant professor of criminal justice, shared with students the work UHD criminal justice students are doing alongside Harris County Sheriff’s Office Reentry Services personnel in the Harris County Jail.

To conclude the program, the students enjoyed an interpretive dance performance of the novel by The Driven Theater Company.

“Thank you to UHD and President Flores for putting together a great event to celebrate literature and cultural awareness,” said Elizabeth Parchman, HPS teacher. “My students were so positive about their experience. They particularly liked the small group discussion with table leaders. Students were able to get to know other students and learn about their perspectives on the issues raised in the novel. Overall, it was an incredible learning experience and a perfect way to end the novel study.”

The NEA selected UHD as the only institution in Houston – and one of only three in Texas – to host The Big Read, a program designed to revitalize the role of reading in American culture by exposing citizens to great works of literature and encouraging them to read for pleasure.

“We were delighted to bring such excellent students from Harmony Public Schools to the University as a signature event of both The Big Read and Citizenship Month Houston,” said Chris Birchak, Ph.D., dean of UHD’s University College and co-principal investigator on The Big Read grant. “Because reading is the foundation of lifelong learning, UHD is proud to host The Big Read and bring HPS students to campus to encourage their pursuit of reading for pleasure.”

Liza Alonzo, UHD executive director of presidential affairs and operations, and Noël Bezette-Flores, Ph.D., executive director of UHD’s Center for Public Service and Family Strengths, also serve as co-principal investigators on the University’s Big Read grant.

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD), founded in 1974, is one of four distinct universities in the University of Houston System, and is the second largest university in Houston and the 15th largest four-year, public university in Texas. One of the most ethnically diverse universities in the country, UHD ranks 43rd nationally for graduating Hispanic students with bachelor’s degrees and 49th nationally for graduating African-American students with bachelor’s degrees. For more information about UHD, please visit www.uhd.edu

the big read