The Literacy Connection

The Reading Program at Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Volume I Issue 2

December 2017 - January 2018

December is National Write to a Friend Month

December is the time to stop what you are doing (or slow down) and take some time to write to a friend. To help students with letter writing, read books, such as: Dear Mr. Blueberry (Simon James), Messages in the Mailbox: How to Write a Letter (Loreen Leedy), Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School (Mark Teague), Dear Mr. Henshaw (Beverly Clearly and Paul Zelinsky), The Jolly Postman (Janet Ahlberg), and Dear Cinderella (Marian Moore and Mary Jane Kensington).

January is National Braille Literacy Awareness Month

January is National Braille Literacy Awareness Month in honor of Louis Braille, who originally developed the Braille code nearly 200 years ago. Braille was born January 4, 1809, and developed the code of raised dots to make text readable for individuals, like himself, who were blind.

15 facts about braille.

Celebrated Holidays


Habari Gani? These Swahili words, meaning What’s the news? represent the ritual greeting for Kwanzaa. This non-religious holiday is celebrated beginning December 26 and ending on January 1 and honors African American culture and community. The ultimate goal is to focus on seven principles of Kwanzaa and apply these principles to influence your way of life throughout the year. The principles include:

Day 1: Umoja (oo-MOH-jah) – Unity

Day 2: Kujichagulia (koo-jee-chah-goo-LEE-ah) – Self Determination

Day 3: Ujima (oo-JEE-mah) – Collective Work and Responsibility

Day 4: Ujamaa (oo-jah-MAH) – Cooperative Economics

Day 5: Nia (NEE-ah) – Purpose

Day 6: Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah) – Creativity

Day 7: Imani (ee-MAH-nee) – Faith

For storylines centered around this holiday, check out Seven Candles for Kwanzza (Andrea Davis Pinkney), Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story (Angela Shelf Medearis), and Together for Kwanzaa (Juwanda G. Ford). Happy Reading!


Hanukkah (also known as Chanukah) is the Jewish Festival of Lights and lasts eight days. It usually falls in late November or December.

Jews celebrate Hanukkah to commemorate the Miracle of the Oil. The Hebrew word Hanukkah means "dedication". Over 2000 years ago, in 165 BC, the Jews in Judea rebelled against their Syrian ruler, Antiochus, because he insisted that all Jewish people must worship Greek Gods. After three hard years of fighting, the Jews defeated Antiochus and, to celebrate, they restored the Temple of Jerusalem - which had been taken over by the Syrians - and rededicated it to their God.

As part of the celebrations, they lit an oil lamp which should have been kept burning all the time, even though they could only find enough oil to keep it burning for one night. But a miracle occurred, and the oil lamp stayed lit for eight days, which was the time it took to make new oil for the lamp. This was the Miracle of the Oil.

It was then declared that every year, Jews would remember the day with an eight-day Festival of Lights and celebrate the miracle of the oil by placing eight candles in a Menorah (a special candlestick) and lighting one candle for each evening of the celebration. Electric lights are sometimes used, especially where where an open flame might be dangerous, such as a hospital room. The Hanukkah lights are meant to remind those walking by the home about the holiday’s miracle, so the Menorah is displayed at a prominent window or near the front door. From

For rich stories centered around Hanukkah, check out the winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award for Children's Literature, Oskar and the Eight Blessings (Richard and Tanya R. Simon). In addition, read Latke, the Lucky Dog (Eileen A. Fischer) and The Story of Hanukkah (David A. Adler).


Christmas is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. For two millennia, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature. Christians celebrate Christmas Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion. Popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. December 25–Christmas Day–has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870. From

See some of faculty's favorite books below.

MLK, Jr. Holiday

By Coretta Scott King

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday celebrates the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America. We commemorate as well the timeless values he taught us through his example — the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership. On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit.

We commemorate Dr. King’s inspiring words, because his voice and his vision filled a great void in our nation, and answered our collective longing to become a country that truly lived by its noblest principles. Yet, Dr. King knew that it wasn’t enough just to talk the talk, that he had to walk the walk for his words to be credible. And so we commemorate on this holiday the man of action, who put his life on the line for freedom and justice every day, the man who braved threats and jail and beatings and who ultimately paid the highest price to make democracy a reality for all Americans.

The King Holiday honors the life and contributions of America’s greatest champion of racial justice and equality, the leader who not only dreamed of a color-blind society, but who also lead a movement that achieved historic reforms to help make it a reality. From

For books about MLK, Jr., check out I am Martin Luther King, Jr. (Brad Meltzer), I Have a Dream (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), and Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Doreen Rappapot).

Faculty's Favorite Holiday Memory or Book

Poem by Dr. Rebekah E. Piper


Lights and luminaries

Good food

Children's voices

Warm drinks and champagne


Relax and recharge

Lots of new memories


Faculty Spotlight

Jeanne Cantu

Teaching is a second career for Jeanne Cantu. After earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Welfare and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire, she traveled to Colombia, South America, where she taught English to elementary and secondary students as well as to steel company engineers who wanted to learn English to come to the United States for advanced degrees. When she returned to the U.S. she moved to San Antonio where she held jobs in casework and counseling with both juvenile and adult offenders and special needs children. She quickly observed that the lack of education was a negative factor in so many lives. This inspired her to make a career change. Returning to college, Jeanne got her teaching degree with a bilingual specialization. She also earned a reading specialist certification and a M.A. in Bilingual-Bicultural Studies at UTSA. She taught elementary grades in Northside ISD and then moved to San Antonio ISD as a Reading Specialist and became Director of Reading and Language Arts for the district. Following her 2008 retirement, she worked with low-performing districts across the nation. Her long-term assignment was in rural Alaska working with the Yupiit School District. For the last three years, she has taught at A&M-SA. Additionally, she does reading and writing training for Region 20 Education Service Center. Jeanne is an avid reader whose philosophy is “so many books, so little time.”

Alumnus Spotlight

Anita Pickett, M.S.

Anita Pickett is an alumnus who graduated in 2012 and has been teaching in SAISD as a reading specialist, instructional specialist and 8th grade language arts and reading teacher. She runs an after school bookclub on feminism and activism in her West San Antonio community. She currently is pursuing her PhD at UTSA in Literacy and is studying the role of power in literate tasks for adolescents.

Spotlight on Undergraduates

Luz Cano

Luz Cano is an outstanding student in Ms. Cantu's reading classes. She is always prepared, engaged, and interested in class activities. Luz is pursuing bilingual certification, EC-6. Passionate about her chosen career, she says that it’s her “calling.” Luz commented that she loves learning and gets excited when she sees children learning. She will be an asset to the teaching profession.

Arturo Idrogo

Arturo Idrogo, a student in Professor Gerth’s Teaching Reading in the Intermediate and Middle School class, proves to be a student with a passion for learning and enthusiasm for doing his best. He not only works hard at his assignments – he works ahead showing his willingness and diligence to get the demands of school done early while he manages family, work, and school. Arturo participates and shows that he is actively engaged in the class at all times and when in small group discussion, he is a team player. Arturo also has a great sense of humor which has added positively to the class climate. These fine qualities in character and work ethic that Arturo has consistently displayed this semester will make him a great teacher and employee who would be an asset to any school community. Arturo is from San Antonio and is a Special Education major.

I am a Reader! I am an Illustrator!

On Wednesday, November 29th, EDRG graduate students enrolled in Children’s and Young Adult Literature (Dr. Piper) and EDEC undergraduate students enrolled in Academics, Creativity and Play (Dr. Jozwiak) partnered with the staff at P.F. Stewart Elementary in SAISD for an evening of literacy fun! The event, I am a Reader! I am an Illustrator! featured various learning activities – centered around picture books – for children grades PK-2 and their families. This event was a great opportunity for families to engage in learning with their children and the collaborative work between Dr. Piper, Dr. Jozwiak, and Ms. Monica Vasquez (P.F. Stewart Elementary) made for a successful night! We look forward to many more community events of this kind.

Hooding Ceremony

The College of Education and Human Development held its Hooding Ceremony on December 18, 2017 at 6:00 p.m. in the auditorium. Three Reading Program students, Annette Jones, Kaila Ruin, and Amanda Ramos, were hooded during the ceremony. Each student completed the Graduate Teacher Certification Program and received a Masters of Science degree in the process.

Rotary Club of San Antonio South

Each year, Rotary Club of San Antonio South hosts a holiday event which includes fellowship, dinner, and a very special visit from Santa! This year, EDRG graduate student Ebony Tinajero and her family were selected to participate in the annual celebration. Her two toddler daughters were excited to visit with Santa as he gifted them with items from their Christmas list. In addition to the Tinajero family, three other families from across San Antonio and Somerset were invited to participate. This annual event by Rotary Club of San Antonio South is just one of the many service projects that members contribute. For more information about Rotary International, please email Rotary Club of San Antonio South Secretary, Dr. Piper at

Annette Jones Implements a Book Club in SAISD

Annette Jones worked at Woodlawn Academy in SAISD to implement a 12 week book club. In her after school time, Ms. Jones' group read two books, Wolf Hollow and a book of poetry. Her students were so inspired by the poetry discussions that they all began writing and collecting poetry to share with their teacher and their friends.

Karen Cain Leads a Book Drive in NEISD

As part of the School Wide Literacy Leadership course, Karen Cain implemented a book drive at Fox Run Elementary School in North East Independent School District. The book drive benefitted those classrooms impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The book drive was held October 23-November 3.

Erica Guerra Hosts a Book Worm Breakfast Club in SAISD

Erica Guerra invited elementary, book lovers to participate in a bookclub at Kelly Elementary in San Antonio Independent School District. The bookclub, Book Work Breakfast Club, met for a month, on Thursdays, during the Fall semester to discuss The One and Only Ivan by K. A. Applewhite.

Vanessa Zamora Implements a Spooky Hour Writing Workshop and a Magic Tree Reading Book Club

The Spooky Hour Writing Workshop was hosted by Vanessa Zamora, a 2nd grade reading teacher at Kate Schenck Elementary from October 23rd through the 27th. A total of 13 second grade students attended the after school workshop. The theme-based writing workshop was titled, Spooky Hour, as it centered around kid-friendly , Halloween books and writing prompts during the month of October.

The Magic Tree Reading Book Club is hosted by four members of the Reading Committee at Kate Schenck Elementary. The members included Ms. Minica (1st grade teacher), Mrs. Zamora (2nd grade teacher), Mrs. Polendo (Librarian), and Mrs. Villarreal (Counselor). The monthly book club was conducted every first Thursday, after school, each month. There were 20 second graders who took part in the book club. The book club focused on the Magic Tree Reading Series, which included a read-aloud, partner reading, and an engaging comprehension activity.

What Veronica Guerrero is Reading this Month

Mrs. Guerrero and her kindergarten class read Pete the Cat picture books by James Dean.

For the month of December, they read Pete The Cat Saves Christmas. When Santa is sick the day before Christmas, he calls Pete the Cat for help. Although Pete is exhausted as he delivers gifts, he is determined to help Santa. Throughout the story Pete chants “At Christmas we give, so I’ll give it my all.” Students learn that when someone asks for help, they should say, "yes" and give it their all.

During the first week of school, we read Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes to model how Pete perseveres with his day despite the several obstacles of he continues to face. With humor and grace, Pete has shown my students that no matter what life hands us, we must keep on because as Pete says “it’s all good.”


The mission of DreamWeek is to advance the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other great humanitarians like him – by proliferating and modernizing their aspirations of a more equitable and enlightened society for all. DREAMWEEK is hosted in San Antonio from January 5-20th. For more information and a schedule of events for DREAMWEEK, visit

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San Antonio 300

In 2018, San Antonio and Bexar County will commemorate its 300th anniversary. History and education, arts and culture, and community service will be at the forefront of initiatives that will reflect on our storied past, celebrate our current achievements, and prepare the community for the next 300 years.

May 1-6, 2018 is designated s Commemorative Week, to celebrate key milestones exactly 300 years later. On May 1, 1718 the Mission San Antonio de Valero- later known as the Alamo- was established. Four days later the Presidio San Antonio de Bejar was formed to protect the new mission. San Antonio’s five area missions are Texas’ only UNESCO World Heritage site and will be at the forefront of many activities during the Tricentennial year. Before the missions were built, the area was inhabited by the Payaya people and known by them as Yanaguana. San Antonio’s multicultural history will be honered uring the Commemorative Week.

From For more information and events held yearlong, click the link.

The Reading Program's Scholarship

Publications for December/January -

Piper, R. E., Vice, T. A., & Pittman, R.T. (in press). Using multicultural children’s literature to address social issues: The power of interactive read aloud. Read: An online journal for literacy educators.

Pittman, R. T. (in press). The case for implementing ELL teaching techniques with African American students. English in Texas.

Pittman, R. T., Piper, R. E., & Garfield. T. (in press). Providing Teacher Candidates Opportunities to Excel While Engaging Elementary Students in Literacy: A Partnership That Works. Journal of Effective Schools Project, 24, xx-xx.

Vice, T. (2017). Burning in New Mexico. El Portal: An international literary journal, 76, xx-xx.

Vice, T. (2017). Mindful Instruction: Metacognitive Activities in the Developmental College Reading Classroom. Promising Practices in Developmental Education. The Education Institute, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas. Pp 58-65.

Presentations for December/January

Piper, R. E. & Pittman, R. T. (2018, January). The connection between service and learning: Preparing teacher candidates for high quality literacy instruction. Paper accepted to the Hawaii International Conference on Education. Honolulu, HI.

Pittman, R. T. (2017, December). Working with difficult people. Tele-presentation presented to the Exceptional Family Members Program's System Navigators from various U.S. Army installations.

Upcoming Literacy Events

Presentation and Publication Opportunities:

Call for Papers

Journal of the Effective Schools Project

Volume XXV – Public Schools = Best Choice
(How are public schools providing choice in their curriculum, delivery, and design?)

Deadline for the 2018 volume is January 15, 2018

Call for Papers

Journal of Language & Literacy Education

Annually, the Spring issue publishes manuscripts that speak to the conference theme. To be considered for the conference issue, manuscripts should be submitted by February 14 at 11:59 PM. Manuscripts must follow the appropriate submission guidelines and align with the conference theme.

For guidance on the genres that JoLLE publishes, click here. For guidance on preparing your manuscript for submission, click here.

Important Dates for the Twenty-Fifth Annual SSSR Meeting
Conference Dates: July 18-21, 2018
Conference Location: Brighton, United Kingdom

Deadline to Apply: December 15, 2017

The International Dyslexia Association Annual Meeting

The Call for Proposals for the International Dyslexia Association’s 2018 Reading, Literacy, and Learning Conference will be open in December 2017. The conference will be held October 24–27, 2018 at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut.

The Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English The Call for Proposals for the 2018 Convention is now open. Proposals are due January 16, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. EST. The conference theme is Raising Student Voice: Speaking Out for Equity and Justice and will be held November 15-18, 2018 at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston, TX.

The Annual Meeting of the Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers (ALER)

The call for proposals for the ALER conference will be due during Winter 2018. Please check the following link to find out more . The conference will be held November 8-11, 2018 in Louisville, KY.

Literacy Research Association's (LRA) Annual Meeting

LRA's annual meeting will be held November 28-December 1, 2018 in Indian Wells, CA. Check for the call for proposals.

The American Library Association (ALA) Youth Media Awards will be announced on February 12th at 8:00 a.m. MT. The Youth Media Awards will name the winners of prestigious awards, such as Coretta Scott King Book, Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz

Awards. To watch in real time, follow the hashtag #alayma

National Events

December 1- World AIDS Day

December 7- Pearl Harbor Day

December 10- Human Rights Day

December 12-20- Hanukkah

December 15- Bill of Rights Day

December 21- First day or winter (Dr. Pittman's birthday)

December 25- Christmas

December 26-January 1- Kwanzaa

January 1- Emancipation Proclamation Anniversary

January 15- Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

January 21- World Religion Day

Spring Semester Start Date is January 16, 2018

Reading Program Faculty

Ramona T. Pittman, Editor-- For inquiries, comments, or suggestions, please send an email to .

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