Bridging the Gap in Childhood Literacy
For five years, Le Moyne professors and students have sought to answer this question: If the parents of very young children were regularly provided with books at no cost, would they spend more time reading to their sons and daughters? That single question leads to a slew of others. If those mothers and fathers did spend more time reading with their pre-school boys and girls, how would that impact the children once they entered kindergarten? How would it shape them – and the opportunities available to them – as adults?
Early childhood literacy has long been a reliable predictor of academic success. To that end, in 2010 the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County partnered with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to provide one book per month to local children in need from birth to age 5. Parents in the program are encouraged to read to their children daily, so that they will be interested in reading and better prepared for school. To date, more than 76,000 books have been distributed, and more than 5,000 children have been enrolled in the program.
Associate Professor of Sociology Frank Ridzi, Ph.D. and Associate Professor of Psychology Monica Sylvia, Ph.D. along with former Associate Professor of Education Sunita Singh, Ph.D., lead the research team at Le Moyne, which has included more than 40 students. The project perfectly aligns with the College’s mission of learning and service. Among the undergraduates’ responsibilities are to develop survey questions for the program, interview participants, and maintain databases and manage survey data used to measure success and outcomes. Beyond that, the students also became immersed in the Greater Syracuse community, particularly with members of its refugee population.
Both Ridzi and Sylvia noted that ultimate goal of the program is to increase high school graduation rates. Children enrolled in the program do seem to be enthusiastic about reading, as Ridzi said they “love receiving books at home, and it makes them more comfortable when they read in school.” That in turn could have an impact on a range of societal problems, including poverty, unemployment and crime. Through their work, the Le Moyne students have discovered that the longer a family participates in the book program, the more likely it is that parents will read to their children. Of those parents enrolled in the program for four months or fewer, 29 percent read to their children daily. That doubled to 59.3 percent for those in program between five and 10 months.