Reading is the most important academic skill for a child. It is the foundation for learning. Through third grade children are learning to read; then they read to learn.
But nearly half of Florida students entering fourth grade cannot read proficiently, according to the Florida Grade Reading Level Campaign.
That’s coupled with a dismal 42 percent of children in Escambia County not ready for kindergarten. Both are recipes for failure in school and life.
But there’s hope and help that comes from people like Glen Mourning, who are dedicated to helping children not only read, but also enjoy doing it.
From football standout to author, the University of Connecticut graduate is now teaching school and writing books, encouraging students to read, study and work to overcome hardships for success.
Mourning spent most of Monday morning with Montclair Elementary second through fifth graders, sharing his life, his story and most importantly the series of children’s books he’s written.
“We all are writers,” Mourning told students sitting around him in Montclair’s media center. “I just decided to share mine with the world.”
The writing he shares is Crunchy Life Kid's books, his most popular work that consist of a 12-part series for children ages 8 and up. Mourning’s books tie in life memories, a spin on traditional fairy tales as well as his imagination to create heartfelt and mesmerizing stories.
Principal Shona Person said she invited Mourning to Montclair Elementary after seeing his story and books on social media. She believes increasing reading proficiency is key to ending the school-to-prison pipeline.
“While reading the Crunchy Life series, many of the students’ personal stories popped in and out of my mind,” Person said. “Instantly, I knew this would be a text my students would love.”
An educator now in the D.C. area, Mourning said he was speaking to a group of Connecticut fifth graders when he realized that he could create books out of the stories he was telling them.
His life life imitated art — in the worst way. In a cramped two-bedroom inner-city apartment with seven adults and six children, Mourning grew up often hungry, helpless, and hopeless.
“I’d come to school angry, and nobody knew why,” he said. “I had no help with my homework and nowhere to do it. I didn’t know how to communicate that I needed help.”
Until his fourth-grade teacher stepped in and turned his life around. She told him he could complain about his situation and disappointment or make a choice to do and be better.
“She said if you want to succeed you have to pay the price. in life,” Mourning said. “Always try to do your best but also understand it’s OK when thinks are hard.”
The PRICE, Mourning explained to the kids, was an acronym for persistence, responsibility, integrity, commitment, and enthusiasm.
Mourning become a scholar and athlete. He earned a full athletic scholarship to play football at the University of Connecticut and made the "All Big East Conference Academic Honor roll for two years in a row before graduating and attending grad school.
Mourning was blessed with the opportunity to lead by example and became the first of two generations to not only graduate from high school, but to complete a master’s degree in pursuit of his dream of becoming a teacher.
For the past several years Mourning has worked as a language arts teacher where his creativity and brilliant approaches to learning have captured national attention.
He was featured in Ebony Magazine, People's Magazine, Good Morning America, Good Day New York, The Steve Harvey Show as well as other nationally recognized news and media outlets. Mourning also writes for PBS as an educational contributor.
Through focusing on building culturally responsive classrooms and school communities, Mourning intends on supporting and strengthening schools around the country “one Mo(u)rning, at a time.”
Given the state’s sub-par reading proficiency, it is encouraging to see that the goal to encourage kids has caught the attention of state leaders. Support now is on the way through early childhood education initiatives passed in the Legislature.
The Florida House launched The New Worlds Reading Program this year. It provides one free book a month for students to take home through the school year.
The Senate also started a pilot program to help students improve their reading skills. It selected 10 counties across the state, including Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Each county was given $6 million to start reading intervention programs for elementary school students.
With the state and people like Mourning committed to improving reading proficiency, Montclair’s principal hopes to see positive results.
“I hope the students who barely read before will read more, and those who fear writing will gain a love for it,” Person said. I hope students see that challenges don’t always last, and that persistence is vital.”