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October 13, 2016

Programs to Boost Child Literacy Yield Great Results in Year 1

Boosting literacy is crucial to children entering kindergarten ready to learn, which in turn, prepares them for success later in school and in life. Giving a child a book with no encouragement or encouraging a child with no books to read is not enough. The two must work in synergy.

That’s why United Way’s partnership with StrivePartnership, KnowledgeWorks Foundation, other local foundations and Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) in combining Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s (CCHMC) Reach Out and Read and Imagination Library programs has been such a success in its first year.  

“This project empowers and supports parents in building the reading habit with their children at home through access to books, literacy tips and conversations with their health care providers about early literacy,” says Ross Meyer, vice president of community impact, United Way of Greater Cincinnati.

The Imagination Library book distribution program provides every child enrolled with a free book mailed to their home each month. The program serves kids age zero to five, and a child enrolled from birth will end up with a library of 60 books by age five. Reach Out and Read is a parent engagement reading program provided through local medical practices, with  pediatricians talking to parents about the importance of reading, and more importantly, how to read with their young child.


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Tiana Henry, coordinator of both Imagination Library and Reach Out and Read, feels that the blending of the two programs is unique and more effective than the services being independent from one another.

“As a parent you’re listening to your doctor, and your doctor is prescribing reading to you and showing you tips on how to read with your child,” said Henry, an Outreach Associate for CCHMC. “It’s not that we’re just delivering books, the doctors are really teaching parents the importance of reading, and following up by giving them books and showing them how to read best.”

The initiative, now in its second year, had set an initial goal to enroll 8,500 children living in the CPS school district. In just over a year, they’ve almost hit their target enrollment.

“We’ve had tremendous success,” said Dr. Greg Szumlas, a pediatrician in the Pediatric Primary Care Center at CCHMC, and the medical director for both programs. “In just over a year we have 8,250 children enrolled. The average Imagination Library takes four-to-five years to meet its targeted enrollment, and we’ve almost reached ours in a year.”


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The primary focus of the first two years of the initiative is primarily getting children enrolled. By the end of November, a total of 73,199 books will have been delivered to the enrollees. The next step is to focus further on parent engagement measuring the impact the programs have on kindergarten readiness scores.

“Both programs show that people are reading better at home and doing better on kindergarten scores, and that’s what we’re going to measure going forward,” said Dr. Szumlas. “Our next focus is turning more towards the parent engagement piece. Our hope is that since somebody they know and trust is telling them to read more, and we’re getting them more books, we’ll see an even greater effect that is typically seen with just the Imagination Library. We have to help parents use the books appropriately—to read as much as they can and read in an age-appropriate manner—so the children get the best learning from the books and the interaction.”

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The initiative is the first venture made possible by the Every Child Capital Fund, dedicated to investing in literacy programs targeting children from birth to age five. The fund is held by KnowledgeWorks Foundation. Current investors include: The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, the Gladys and Ralph Lazarus Fund of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, the Thomas J. Emery Memorial, and Duke Energy.

CPS plans to fund the initiative if pending achievement of targeted outcomes and estimated savings following the three-year pilot.  These include improved kindergarten readiness scores, improved literacy scores and expanded vocabularies for participating children, and better communication with parents of incoming kindergartners about enrollment.