by Emily Ball Cicchini, Executive Director
This photo was taken at a lunchtime summer Go event at one of the Housing Authority of the City of Austin’s community centers. This young girl was so memorable to me, because she was so insistent that I read that one book, a counting book, over and over again. She and I talked about the numbers and animals and then I had her read the book to me. She struggled over the words a bit, but the numbers, she jumped on. What struck me was how persuasive she was and how much she enjoyed the repetition, relishing knowing what came next! I like to imagine that she might grow up to have a quantitative career, such as an investor or research scientist or accountant. I wished I could have stayed there for hours and read many books together with her, but after a while, it was time to clean up and go. These types of events are happening all this summer through BookSpringGo.
As our organizational fiscal year comes to a close, I am happy to report that BookSpring remains a dynamic yet resilient nonprofit working to build early literacy in children and families through healthcare, education, and the community. We envision families and children reading and succeeding together, and our many strategic program partners as catalysts to launch children into a world of reading.
The sense I have, and I believe that many others share, is that we are facing a crisis of critical thinking and sustained attention at this time across our country. Too many children still cannot read at a proficient enough level to truly understand the world around them, and too many low-income families do not have books at home.
According to our 2017 Central Texas Reading Survey, 23% of all families with children say they have less than 20 books at home, and over 50% are saying that their children are reading more in digital than in print.
While digital literacy is a valuable skill, it doesn’t replace the breadth and depth of understanding of reading print, and the deep developmental benefits of reading illustrated picture books together when a child is very young. Book ownership ensures that children have access to books in their homes when they are at critical points in their development, where they can be read aloud to by caregivers and repeat their favorites over and over again.
Early reading aloud between fluent adults and naturally curious children is critical for development of the language centers of the brain, and continued reading together positively impacts academic as well as social-emotional outcomes. Reading together not only has developmental benefits, it increases the parent-child bond, creating healthier relationships and a more solid sense of security and empathy long-term. We are particularly informed by research that demonstrates that as few as 20 books in the home has a positive impact on future education (Evans et al, 2010).
There are an estimated 88,000 children in Central Texas living in poverty. BookSpring is aiming to focus, grow and sustain our evidence-based programs widely enough to reach each one of these children multiple times with more books by the year 2020, so that they will grow up with home libraries of at least 20 books. We are already engaging over 100,000 children a year with at least one book. Our primary operational goal is to get more books to the right children at the right time, and be resilient and reliable enough to keep it that way far into the future, following the call to serve families in need with donated books and transformative reading activities wherever they are.
BookSpring has continued to make small but significant changes in our program strategy to keep up with the times. Most notably, we have focused our programs through three strategic partner areas: Healthcare, Education, and Communities (Rx, Ed, and Go). This allows us to better tailor our essential program methods of curating high-quality, developmentally appropriate books to be distributed, free of charge, to groups of children and caregivers in low-socio-economic settings.
To maximize impact, we partner with medical clinics, schools, and other non-profits to work through their programs with supplemental activities and events designed to educate, inspire, and build intrinsic motivation to read. Doctors, librarians, teachers, and program personnel all become change agents for early literacy. These important collaborators are supported by BookSpring’s staff and our trained volunteers to enact these transformational engagements throughout the year, predominately in Travis County, but expanding out to all our surrounding counties, and with low-cost pilots across Texas and the nation. We track these activities through daily activity reports with over 30 data points that allow us to visualize the impact of our work on an ongoing basis, including location, demographics, minutes of engagement, number of children engaged, and number of books distributed, which is reported online here.
For instance, between July, 2017 and June 30, 2018, we have distributed 180,851 books through 149,666 child engagements through over 200 community partners, enacting over 62,149 hours of motivational activities and 55,359 hours of reading aloud together. This is an 27% increase in total books distributed and a 41% increase in the number of child engagements over the previous year.
In addition to these cross-sector metrics of BookSpring’s overall early literacy impact, each of our time-tested programs has targeted objectives designed to measure attitudes, behaviors, and abilities around reading. For instance, our Summer Success program model, targeting 1st and 2nd graders, showed a statistically significant impact against a matched comparison group, with pre and post summer reading tests showing the BookSpring students scores to be 36.49% higher. Read the BookSpring Summer Success White Paper for more detail.
In this coming year, the 10th anniversary year of operations under the name BookSpring, and our 44th carrying on book distributions and motivational reading activities in Austin, we are thrilled to be looking forward to a brighter future for our children, our families, and the many diverse communities of Central Texas.
I personally hope you’ll choose to support early literacy in your daily lives, by reading together with children whenever you can, giving the gift of books frequently, and, if you can spare an hour or a dollar, come be a part of the work we are doing to get the gift of literacy to children and families most in need.
With your help, we can look forward to another decade of advancing reading and early literacy…or until every child has books at home, and every parent reads to them all the time.