Member Spotlight: Literacy is a Cornerstone for Equality
Raising A Reader is a national non-profit with roots in the Bay Area for over twenty years. They engage caregivers in a routine of book sharing with their children from birth through age eight to foster healthy brain development, healthy relationships, a love of reading, and the literacy skills critical for school success. RAR’s innovative rotating book program excites children and families with award-winning books each week, helps families understand why sharing books regularly matters, and establishes connections to libraries to maintain literacy habits at home.
We sat down to talk with Kristen Anderson, Regional Program Manager to learn how they have been addressing Oakland’s literacy needs.
Why does your organization support literacy in Oakland?
Early childhood is one of the most critical stages in an individual’s life, with 90% of brain development occurring before the age of five. However, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer than half of the nation’s children who live in poverty, enter school with the language and literacy skills needed for success. In low-income neighborhoods like Oakland, the ratio of books to children is one book for every 300 children, far below the ratio of 13 books per child in middle- and upper-income neighborhoods.
RAR serves families in 34 states, but our Bay Area roots run deep. Raising A Reader was founded in San Mateo over twenty years ago. Since our founding, we have continually partnered with our affiliates in Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara, including county offices of education, First 5 agencies and several school districts, including Oakland and San Francisco. We provide high-quality services to all of our affiliates, but have a special place in our heart for our Bay Area sites.
What makes Raising A Reader stand out from other literacy service providers?
RAR works with over 40 publishers, including the largest and most recognized multicultural book and minority-owned publishers in the country, to carefully curate a collection of over 3,200 titles including over 500 bilingual titles and 13 different languages. We also offer specialty collections with books focusing on topics like STEAM, Financial Literacy and Social Emotional content. The carefully curated collection is designed to provide children with both a window to the world that surrounds them and a mirror of the world that they know. Families often share that they have been introduced to books that they would not normally select, and it has provided their child with a broader exposure and some new and surprising favorites.
What is your organization’s hidden talent?
RAR’s national team includes fourteen staff members that serve almost 300 affiliates nationwide. Our collective team has strength in early childhood education and nonprofit organizations and provides valuable insight in serving communities and families, consistently modelling their core values of equity and inclusion, quality relationships, putting families first, accountability and essentialism.
Our train-the-trainer model allows our small, but mighty team to have a national impact that serves families in a variety of settings including daycare centers, home visiting programs, school districts, affordable housing complexes, libraries and more.
Can you share a story or anecdote from working with a teacher or classroom that has impacted you over the years?
During an RAR training session for OUSD staff, we learned that one of the Family Liaisons had previous experience with the program when her son was in preschool. She shared that their family did not have an existing home reading routine and the weekly rotation of books sparked an excitement in her son that established a love of reading. He scored high on his kinder readiness exams and by 6th grade he was recognized as the top reader of his class. As a mother of 3 boys, 2 of whom did not participate in RAR, she recognizes the little red bag program as having a large influence on his passion for books.
What is an “Aha” moment for RAR?
Our “aha moment” can be reflected in our theory of change model which demonstrates that when children are excited, parents and teachers are trained, and a turn-key program of materials are in place, we can create lasting change in family engagement, intrinsic reading motivation and early literacy outcomes. With 39 independent studies showing our efficacy in changing family reading behaviors, we have an evidence-based model that continues to make lasting change.
How has the pivot to distance learning impacted your work?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the students we serve have experienced close to a year of either hybrid or distance learning and are under unprecedented stress as they face uncertainty, economic hardship, and a lack of social support systems. We heard from educators that families were experiencing screen fatigue and desperately needed physical books in the home. RAR got to work and created the Family Shared Reading Program (FRSP) to provide families the tools and resources they need to engage in high-quality shared reading strategies at home. A packet of 6 bilingual books, a response journal, and a bilingual family guide containing 12 weeks of shared reading activities was sent home to participating Oakland families. Teachers received the same materials allowing them to lead virtual story times using the books children had at home. This home-school connection via physical books has been well-received by families and teachers requesting more time with books vs. screens.
Is there anything else you would like our OLC community to know?
Raising A Reader (RAR) stands firm in its unwavering commitment to equality, diversity, inclusivity and improving the lives of children in all communities across the United States. For the past 20 years, RAR has strived to close the opportunity gap for under-resourced children and their families, specifically in communities of color across the country. It is RAR’s belief and hope that education and literacy can be a cornerstone in creating equality and opportunity for all. Moreover, we are in a critical moment in time in our society to make this a reality. To that end, RAR is doubling down on its efforts to better serve communities of color and the future of the United States. RAR will develop and implement a Social Justice Plan that will reaffirm the organization’s commitment to dismantling inequities at all levels and continue to drive its work.
This blog is a feature highlighting our OLC Members in action. We know that building a future where every Oakland child learns and loves to read will take all of us. That’s why we’ve built a thriving network of organizations to learn, collaborate, and champion literacy. Learn More about our Membership by visiting our website. For questions about Membership, contact Jethro Rice at jethro@Oaklandliteracycoalition.org.