Bright Spots are written and produced by the Campaign to showcase the work in Grade-Level Reading communities to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016. Continue reading below or download a PDF version.

The grade-level reading campaign in Springfield, Massachusetts, has hit home with Talk/Read/Succeed! (TRS), an early literacy effort that reaches 300 children from birth to age 9 and their families in the public housing complexes where they live.

“The most difficult part of this work is reaching parents, especially disadvantaged parents who are pulled in many directions,” says Sally Fuller of the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation, who oversees the local GLR effort. Springfield is among 30 communities honored by the GLR Campaign as a 2014 Pacesetter for early reading work.

“Parents are the ones who are going to change outcomes for their kids so this is a two-generation approach. The value of this place-based work is we’re reaching children and their families.”

Developed in 2011 by the Springfield-based Davis Foundation, TRS provides outreach and services to families with children from birth through third grade at two housing complexes. Two outreach workers build relationships with residents and determine what the children and their parents need to succeed.

Families fill out needs assessments that inform what TRS brings onsite or nearby, from Head Start to summer learning options. “That’s where we see the input of the families’ voice in our program design,” says Maura Geary, strategic program innovation director of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, who oversees TRS.

For example, after many parents reported struggling with anxiety and child behavior issues, TRS partnered with a mental health agency to put counselors onsite.

“When services are brought to where people are, people can start to access them,” says William Abrashkin, executive director of the Springfield Housing Authority, a key partner. A former judge, Abrashkin switched to public housing work in part to try to break the “cycle of disadvantage” he saw in his courtroom.

Funding for TRS is an ongoing concern, with primary support coming from $250,000 in state funds that lawmakers must approve annually. Support also comes from the Davis Foundation, Hasbro Inc. and the Funder Collaborative for Reading Success, which supports many early literacy efforts and includes more than a dozen area banks, businesses and foundations.

At the two complexes, about 60 percent of parents have participated in a TRS activity such as parenting education or a workshop to promote financial self-sufficiency. “We’ve learned how to make [participation] happen,” says Geary, including by using incentives such as gift cards.

TRS parents formed a tenant council at one complex and lead a revived Parent Teacher Organization at one of two elementary schools involved with TRS. “The highest engagement level is when parents take on leadership roles and become strong advocates for themselves and their children,” says Geary.

With both complexes now offering Head Start, the percentage of children enrolled in early childhood education has increased from 40 to 60 percent. With the two TRS-involved schools now offering a free five-week summer learning program, the percentage of children enrolled in summer programs has increased from 20 to 75 percent. About 98 percent maintained or increased their literacy level.

Concerted efforts to better connect families and schools have increased families’ involvement in their children’s education, from sitting on school-community decision-making teams to working as lunchroom monitors. Efforts range from hosting picnics at the housing complexes to participating in The Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project, a national California-based effort.

“There was a huge disconnect between parents and the school,” says Rhonda Stowell-Lewis, the principal at a TRS elementary school. But TRS has helped spur “a huge turnaround,” she adds, including a 60 percent increase in English language arts and math scores, a 30 percent increase in teachers’ job satisfaction rates, a significant jump in attendance rates and a major drop in suspensions.

Kelly Robblets, who has two young children at the school, learned through TRS parenting programs “how to teach my son to know shapes and recognize words and how to talk to my daughter when she is agitated.”

For more information, contact Maura Geary at 413-755-1367 or MGeary@rebhc.org. Photos: Talk/Read/Succeed!; Publication Date: Spring 2015. To nominate a community to be featured as a Bright Spot, please contact Betsy Rubiner at brubiner@gradelevelreading.net.

Does your community work to engage families in public housing? If so, share your experience in the comments box

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Betsy Rubiner is a writer and senior consultant with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

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Comments

  • What an innovative approach to reaching parents, where they are, and demonstrating parents' vital role in their children's development. Great to see such promising outcomes!
  • There are many great ideas worth studying and stealing in this article! Because Springfield is a neighboring community, Talk/Read/Succeed! is well known to many of us in Holyoke. Springfield is lucky to have Judge Abraskin. He is a national leader in the concept of connecting public housing to early literacy campaigns, and we have learned a lot from his example.
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