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Raising a Reader: Finalist's Statement

Social Capitalists

Raising a Reader

Imagine young children everywhere spending hours each week in a parent's lap reading their favorite storybook together. Envision these children arriving at kindergarten, already in love with the printed page and ready to learn. Raising a Reader, a highly successful, multicultural book bag program, is poised to make this vision a reality for low-income children and families across the US and the world.

A supporting organization of the Peninsula Community Foundation, Raising a Reader was founded in 1999 in California's Silicon Valley. Born from principles of venture philanthropy, Raising a Reader is a robust nonprofit business that addresses a national literacy crisis: one in three children enter kindergarten lacking basic pre-reading skills. The program promotes a triangulated approach that enfolds childcare providers, librarians, and parents in a coordinated read aloud effort focusing on the first years of life when 90% of brain growth occurs.

Raising a Reader works with a variety of nonprofits to rotate bright red bags filled with award-winning children's books into the homes of low-income families, and teaches parents about read aloud techniques and the latest in brain development research. The books are culturally and linguistically appropriate, and a "Read Aloud" video is produced in nine languages to give all parents the know-how and comfort they need to make the shared book experience successful. RAR affiliates rotate book bags in all kinds of settings -- a South Dakota Indian reservation, Air Force childcare centers, fishing villages in the Yucatan, a teen mother's program, in nurse's health home-visiting programs, in Head Start classrooms, and more.

RAR works with populations where reading aloud is least likely to occur because the parents do not have high levels of literacy or language skills themselves. With cultural sensitivity, the program taps into the natural storytelling traditions of all people. It turns on the read aloud experience for these families with books that promote wonder, and a theory of change that markets the program to the child. The book bag and its contents become the child's favorite toy.

And Raising a Reader gets results. The program has shown a 471% increase in the number of low-income families reading to their children five or more times a week. Head Start children using Raising a Reader tested at least twice as high as the national norms on print concepts necessary for kindergarten readiness.

Fueled by this success, Raising a Reader has already reached over 130,000 children in 71 communities, across 23 states and four countries. RAR affiliates, the social entrepreneurs who own the RAR initiatives in their local communities, create an early literacy movement by partnering with a variety of organizations serving low-income families. They benefit from both the structure of the trademarked program, and the adaptability of the ready-to-use kits. As noted by Janell Flores, San Francisco RAR affiliate, "Raising a Reader was a perfect program to replicate. After we decided to implement the program, I could take what was given and go."

Given the breadth of the national network, costs for the business functions are spread across multiple communities. This gives RAR and its affiliates the advantages of a national brand image and enormous purchasing benefits associated with volume orders. As a result, the cost of RAR is only $35 per child over the five-year life of the program materials.

Raising a Reader provides affiliates with numerous resources including grant-seeking strategies and sample grant applications, and tools to evaluate their programs and communicate results to current and potential investors. In addition, Raising a Reader partners with Stanford University to tap into the research of scholars in linguistics, early literacy, English language learning, family bonding, and early brain development. It translates the research into practical strategies that enhance the parent-child read aloud experience. Most recently, Raising a Reader has embarked on two partnership projects with LeapFrog Enterprises Inc. and CommonSense Media. The projects focus on ways to increase phonemic awareness in monolingual Spanish-speaking families and to minimize the impact of TV on early brain development.

With a solid foundation of research and ambitious community and business goals, Raising a Reader is building a powerful national network of early literacy experts who are changing lives -- one bright red bag at a time.

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The above information was provided by the profiled organization.