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.  

Remember Mister Rogers’ warm, engaging conversation, directed toward the young children watching his classic television show? The early literacy specialists who work for the Parent-Child Home Program (PCHP) site in Buffalo, New York, do much the same. 

“We are narrating ourselves and providing dialogue to promote the language development, cognitive skills and social competencies that help children enter school with the skills to be successful,” says Lisa Alexander, coordinator of the 12-year-old Buffalo PCHP site. “We are also modeling for the parent a positive, responsive, language-rich parenting style.” 

This effort — providing two years of intensive, twice-weekly half-hour home visits to under-resourced families with children between age 16 months and 4 years — has paid off. Developed in 1965 and serving more than 7,000 families annually in 12 states, PCHP contributes to positive parent-child interactions, school readiness, reduced risk of child abuse and neglect, later school success and increased high school graduation, evaluations show.

An evaluation of the Buffalo site  run by King Urban Life Center — when it first served 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds likely to enter a partnering charter school — found that the school’s PCHP graduates had significantly higher literacy skills than its non-PCHP graduates before and after kindergarten as well as in third and fourth grades. 

The study results show that: 

  • Before kindergarten, PCHP graduates’ average score on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test was 99.9 vs. 89.4 for non-PCHP graduates. After kindergarten, PCHP graduates’ average score was 104.7 vs. 94.7 for non-PCHP graduates. 
  • PCHP graduates not only outperformed their peers but also exceeded nationally normed outcomes when entering and leaving kindergarten. Although non-PCHP graduates showed gains between the start and end of kindergarten, they did not reach the benchmark level on the Peabody test.
  • By third and fourth grade, 75 percent of PCHP graduates scored as proficient in English language arts vs. 52 percent for non-PCHP graduates and 45 percent for other Buffalo public school students. In math, 100 percent of PCHP graduates scored as proficient, vs. 73 percent for non-PCHP graduates and 60 percent for other Buffalo students. 

“When the PCHP model is followed with fidelity, it is highly successful,” says Alexander, whose site serves 50 families, primarily African American, and recently reverted to serving 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds, the standard age group of most sites. 

Based in Garden City, New York, PCHP is designed to build school readiness where it all begins, in a child’s home, by strengthening parent-child interactions critical to closing the “word gap” and “readiness gap” between low-income children and their more affluent peers.

Some sites’ particulars vary, in order to meet a community’s needs. At a newer PCHP site in Buffalo, operated by Jericho Road Ministries, that works with immigrants and refugees, literacy specialists share a language and cultural background with families and educational and literacy materials reflect the different cultures.

But all sites share a “light touch” and “modeling not teaching” approach. “Initially the literacy specialist has to lead a lot of interactions, but over time we expect the parent will take leadership,” says Alexander, who is also a member of the local grade-level reading coalition.

Focusing on building a meaningful relationship and empowering parents, PCHP provides families with a library of free books and constructive learning toys. Parents learn techniques such as “dialogic reading” (engaging a child in a conversation about a book) and “creative, open-ended language-based play” (talking while playing with blocks and puzzles) to foster creativity, inquiry and problem solving.

“We are very intentional and strategic,” says Alexander. “Our main goal is to develop children’s skills, pro-social behaviors, book awareness and understanding of colors, shapes, alphabetic concepts and numeracy.”

Another key PCHP model component is providing ongoing training and support to the literacy specialists so they can provide the highest-quality programming. “We also attend national conferences to stay abreast of what’s current in the field, so we have that research to back up the practice,” says Alexander.

For more information, contact Lisa Alexander at 716-895-2050 or Photos: PCHP/King Urban Life Center; Publication Date: Fall 2014. To nominate a community to be featured as a Bright Spot, please contact Betsy Rubiner at

Does your community have a Parent Child Home Program? 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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