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Preliminary Research by Le Moyne Professors on Local “Imagination Library” Efforts Shows Impressive Results

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (For Immediate Release…) Research conducted on more than 700 families enrolled in Onondaga County’s chapter of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL) showed significant positive results for the program, including the fact that it has a positive effect on family reading regardless of child age, gender, family income, parental education, race, parental nation of birth and primary language. The results of the study were announced at a press conference held Friday, Aug. 5 at Le Moyne College, one of many community partners who are supporting DPIL, which is being administered by the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County.

“Even though our involvement with Imagination Library is still very much in the beginning stages, the results of this survey are extremely encouraging,” said Virginia Carmody, executive director of the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County. “This research aligns with our Community Literacy Indicators – where we measure the percent of children who are read to daily and the percent of incoming kindergarteners prepared for school. It is critical to school success and graduation rates that children are read to and enter school ready!”

Books through Imagination Library were first offered in May 2010 to children under the age of five in two of the neediest zip codes of the city of Syracuse (13203 & 13208), with the goal to sign up 500 children per year. To date approximately 9,677 books have been distributed over the past 14 months to 1,011 children. The research – which was developed by three Le Moyne professors and conducted in the field by students at the College – evaluates the impact of the book distribution part of the program only since the wrap around services were not in place at the time data were collected for this evaluation.

Targeting the Syracuse North Literacy Zone, family literacy programs were also funded through Literacy Champion Grants to support partnerships with eight community organizations, such as the Rosamond Gifford Zoo and White Branch Library, that are designed to model effective reading behavior to parents and to engage parents in reading to their children as they work to improve their own literacy levels. Ongoing research will measure new library cards issued and library usage in these neighborhoods as well.

“The Community Foundation, which provides funding and in-kind staff support to the Literacy Coalition, the Imagination Library and the current research, is very pleased with these initial results,” said John Eberle, vice president of grants and community initiatives at the Foundation. “If more children are better prepared for kindergarten through improved literacy, the impact will be transformational – to them directly – but also to their families and our wider community.”

“Le Moyne College is proud to join with others in the community to support the Imagination Library, and these results confirm how vital this program is in its efforts to raise literacy levels within the greater Syracuse community,” said Le Moyne President Fred Pestello. “I commend all those who are part of this important effort.”

Among the other significant research findings:
• The longer children are enrolled in DPIL, the more frequently they are likely to be read to and have the story discussed with them by their parents.
• Using more advanced statistics determined that each month a child is enrolled increases the likelihood that he or she will be read to daily.
• When comparing those enrolled for four months or less versus more than four months, it was determined that parents reading to their children three times a week or more jumped from 59.7% to 85.2%, while the percentage of parents who read to their child daily doubled from 29% to 59.3%.
• Race and nation of birth of respondents were significant predictors; being Black or African American or being non-U.S. born made a child less likely to be read to daily. However, after a few extra months of enrollment these groups caught up and had nearly identical probability of reading to their child daily as other groups, suggesting that DPIL is an efficient way to overcome gaps that exist among groups.

“We are aware of no other studies that have statistically predicted the impact of longer DPIL enrollment on reading behavior,” said Frank Ridzi, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology at Le Moyne. “Though preliminary in terms of the program being fully established within Onondaga County, the research team was pleasantly surprised with the results and the progress made in a relatively short period of time.”

Replicating a national survey used by the National Center for Education Statistics about reading frequency and behavior, surveys were sent to parents of enrolled children and followed up with phone calls to 712 families. The result was 170 completed surveys, a 24% response rate. Developed by Education Professor Sunita Singh, Psychology Professor Monica Sylvia and Ridzi, the results of the research instrument have been summarized in a working paper titled “Imagination Library: Do More Books in Hand Mean More Shared Book Reading?”

Founded in 1996, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library is a nonprofit organization that gives hundreds of thousands of books each month to registered children in participating communities all over the United States and Canada. As they promote the love of early reading and learning as the building blocks for a strong foundation in education, program officials strive to help children dream more, learn more, care more and be more through its educational campaign. There are currently more than 1,000 chapters of Imagination Library in the United States.

In addition to the Literacy Coalition and Le Moyne College, program supporters include the Central New York Community Foundation, Clear Channel, United Way’s Success By Six, ProLiteracy, St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center, Allyn Foundation, National Grid, Syracuse Research Corporation and a growing list of businesses, organizations and private donors. Special thanks to Literacy Coalition’s Measurement Action Team, which includes members from the Central New York Community Foundation, OCM-BOCES, Onondaga Community College, Syracuse University, the Syracuse City School District, Apter and O’Connor, and Child Care Solutions. Go to www.onliteracy.org for more information and to support our community’s vision of 100% Literacy through 100% Community Engagement.

For an executive summary and the full research paper, visit the Web site of Le Moyne’s Center for Urban and Regional Applied Research (CURAR) here.

posted on: 8/5/2011