A recent study of children enrolled in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL) in City of Syracuse found that those who consistently took part in the program (meaning they were involved for at least three or four years of the five-year program) were significantly better prepared to enter kindergarten than their peers who had not participated in it.

The results of the study were announced at a press conference that took place on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at Le Moyne College, one of the many community organizations supporting the local DPIL, which is administered by the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County.

The goal of DPIL is to increase early childhood literacy skills by providing children from birth through age five with one book per month at no cost to their families. The program was launched in 2010 in two of Onondaga County’s most impoverished ZIP codes (13203 and 13208). In 2012, it grew to include half of the City of Syracuse and in 2014 it grew again to include the entire city, with Syracuse and Onondaga County leaders committing to fund the program for the first three years of its expansion. As of Aug. 1, 2015, more than 85,000 books had been distributed to more than 6,000 children through DPIL.

“As members of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, we know that children that enter school not ready can struggle, lose confidence, and have a much greater potential for failure...all at a cost that their families and our community cannot afford. We launched Imagination Library as a key component of our school readiness efforts. Not just a book program, it has been an extraordinary tool for community engagement,” said Virginia "Ginny" Carmody, executive director of the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County. “As such, I am as proud of our research efforts as I am of our community partnerships. This is truly a community impact strategy that puts a focus on community-wide outcomes and our shared investment in early literacy and school readiness."

The research efforts were led by three members of the faculty at Le Moyne College: Associate Professor of Sociology Frank Ridzi, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology Monica Sylvia, Ph.D., and former Associate Professor of Education Sunita Singh, Ph.D. The College’s research team also included more than 40 Le Moyne students, who helped to develop survey questions, interview participants, and maintain databases and manage survey data used to measure success and outcomes.

Early research found that sustained enrollment in Imagination Library led to more child-directed reading and story discussion, as well as to greater familiarity with and use of print-based forms of storytelling in refugee families where oral storytelling traditions are more common. This new research went a step further, and assessed children’s preparation for kindergarten based on their performance on a test of their letter naming fluency. The test was given to all incoming kindergarteners in the Syracuse City School District in the fall of 2013 and fall of 2014, and has been widely shown to predict future reading, vocabulary and language skills.

“This ongoing research effort, which has already found evidence that providing books to families with young children is associated with an increase in the amount of time parents and children spend reading together, has further found promising results to support the abundant literature on the positive impact that reading has on preparing children for school,” said Dr. Ridzi. “Being ready for school goes a long way to shaping them, and the opportunities available to them as adults.”

Among children who were consistently enrolled in DPIL, 61.1 percent were assessed as ready for kindergarten based on their performance on the test compared to 47.4 percent of children who did not take part in the program. This represents a 28 percent increase in the number of children who were prepared for kindergarten based on this measure.

“This project perfectly aligns with the College’s Jesuit identity and overall mission of learning and service,” said Le Moyne President Linda LeMura, Ph.D. “I am gratified that our faculty and students were able to participate in this important work and to become further immersed in the greater Syracuse community. We are proud to have supported this effort from the beginning.”

“I’m pleased to congratulate the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County, and our great community partners, for their shared ownership – and our more recent success – in raising a generation of readers and leaders in CNY,” said John Eberle, vice president of Grants and Community Initiatives at the Central New York Community Foundation. “We know reading books at an early age helps children prepare for kindergarten and sets them on a path of future success in school. I’m pleased to know that this research indicates that children receiving books through the Imagination Library program are better prepared for kindergarten. As we know, if a child can read, the sky is the limit of what they might achieve. The findings presented today should only reinforce our commitment to our community’s most valuable resource – our children. Now’s the time to double down on our efforts to ensure every child is ready for kindergarten and reading on grade-level (by 3rd grade).”

“Reading is one of the skills most critical to a child's development, and the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County has been an invaluable partner in developing literary skills in Syracuse City School District children,” said Dr. Sharon Contreras, superintendent of the Syracuse City School District. “Thanks to the Imagination Library program, students in Syracuse city schools have the opportunity, regardless of family income, to receive age-appropriate, new books each month. This program has been invaluable to our students, leading to higher kindergarten screening scores, and children who are better prepared to enter school. The Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County continues to serve the students of the Syracuse City School District with dedication, and I am proud to continue our ongoing partnership. Together, we are helping to develop in children a love of reading that will last a lifetime," added Dr. Contreras.

Founded in 1996, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library is a nonprofit organization that has sent more than 71 million free books to enrolled children in participating communities all over the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. The Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County is the local affiliate in Syracuse, New York, with the support of the Central New York Community College, Le Moyne College, United Way’s Success By Six, ProLiteracy, iHeartMedia, St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center, the Reisman Foundation, Onondaga County, the City of Syracuse with a growing list of community partners and supporters. To date, more than 85,000 books have been distributed to more than 6,000 children. Special thanks to Literacy Coalition’s Measurement Action Team, which includes members from the Central New York Community Foundation, Le Moyne College, OCM-BOCES, and the Syracuse City School District. Click here for more information and to support our community’s vision of 100% Literacy through 100% Community.