GARLAND, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – With reading as the foundation for everything students learn, a new report out this week is cause for concern.

According to the Children’s Health Beyond ABC report, which looks at quality of life issues affecting North Texas children. fewer than half of the area’s third graders are reading on grade level.​

Educators call literacy “critical” to academic success.​

“If they want to be successful in science, they have to be great readers,” says Melissa Hill, EdD, Garland ISD Director of Teacher & Learning Development. “If they want to be successful in math, they have to be great readers.”​

So in Garland ISD, early literacy has already become a district wide focus, stressing reading in the classroom, and in the community.​

“So much is learned when students sit in the laps of their parents and read before they even get to school,” says Dr. Hill. “Exposure to words, and books and print rich environments before they even enter the doors of

Garland ISD puts them so far ahead of the game developmentally, from students who don’t have that exposure.”​

To help families provide that exposure, the school community offers access to a free, online library called, myON.

Thousands of titles are available in English and Spanish that can be accessed on the go with any internet connection.

Freeman Elementary School in Garland ISD (CBS 11)

Since Garland ISD serves students in several cities, families in Rowlett and Sachse can also download and take advantage of the service.

The online library works alongside a mobile library that’s often parked at community events.

A literacy festival earlier this year attracted thousands.​

“It’s really making an impact in our student learning,” says ​Kelly Garcia, Principal at Freeman Elementary.

She says the district’s community centric focus on early literacy is paying off: in student performance, and in perspective.​

“Seeing students have a love for reading, seeing students WANT to read, without being pressured into it– is one of the greatest joys that I have, is seeing them want to learn, not being forced into learning,” says Garcia.​

“We know that literacy growth can’t start in third grade, when state assessments start,” adds Dr. Hill. “So our focus of getting our students to be literate, to be exposed to literature and to reading before they even come to us, we know it’s going to pay off.”​