If the phrase, "like father like son," is true, then many Merced County students will maintain very basic to low-level reading skills throughout their lives.
More than half of Merced County adults are low-literate, according to Pam Cornelison, literacy program coordinator for the Merced County Library.
Children of parents who don't hold a good grasp on reading may not emphasize the skill at home, Cornelison added.
The National Education Association is trying to bring reading and literacy to the forefront, at least for a day.
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Tuesday was the NEA-sponsored 13th annual Read Across America Day and Dr. Seuss' birthday.
More than 45 million people nationwide were expected to participate.
In Merced County, most elementary schools will celebrate this week with a number of Dr. Seuss-themed reading events, including family reading nights.
Peggy Heller Elementary School in Atwater hosted a Dr. Seuss-themed family reading night Tuesday, where teachers served green eggs and ham and students and parents read books by the famous author.
Mary Monroe, the school librarian at Shaffer Elementary School in Atwater, said that Read Across America makes literacy a priority.
"If students can't read, what are they going to do in life?" Monroe asked.
The National Center for Education Statistics reported that in 2003, 23 percent of Merced County residents lacked basic prose literary skills.
That puts children of those adults at risk for being behind in school because low literacy is often cyclical.
"Typically, adults in the literacy programs did not have parents who read to them," Cornelison said. "Family life and parenting are the difference between high-level and low-level literacy."
Children of these parents can suffer academically unless parents emphasize the importance of school and reading.
Brian Mimura, executive director of First 5 Merced County, a state organization aimed at improving the lives of children, said that children who read at grade level by the third grade are more likely to be good readers as adults.
Mimura added that not having strong reading skills as a parent doesn't mean parents can't make reading a family value.
One way children of parents without basic reading skills can develop grade-level literacy is by having them attend pre-kindergarten programs, such as Head Start or Even Start.
"If they go to Head Start, they get a huge boost," Cornelison said. "If they don't, they'll be at a disadvantage."
Another barrier to reading at grade level is that some students in Merced County lack the resources to buy books.
Monroe estimated that more than half her students don't have access to books at home.
That's one reason why school libraries are so important, she said.
Monroe also noted that the Merced Union High School District's library program is on the chopping block this month because of budget cuts.
Residents interested in becoming a literacy tutor for the Merced County Library can attend an orientation at the library March 23 at 6 p.m.
Call Pam Cornelison at (209) 385-7391 for more information.
Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.