A day in the Life of a Between the Lines committee member

Frozen?  What’s that about?  Would a second-grade girl like the story?”  The innocuous question revealed a wealth of information about the woman standing before me.  For starters, she must be pretty isolated not to know about the highest grossing animated film of all time.  Second, she’s been outta the loop for quite a while: Disney introduced Anna and Elsa back in 2013.  The most important takeaway, however, is that she cares about whether or not a young girl would enjoy the story.

Over the next couple of hours, I record women as they read — everything from The Babysitters Club to Love You Forever — into a recording device.  Before starting, each woman opens with a personal message about how she misses and loves the recipient of the book: “enjoy the story, I miss you,” “hope to see you soon,” and “momma thinks of you every day.”
The last woman I record thanks me for spending a Saturday with her, and she praises the volunteers I’m working with, “it it’s so, so nice what the Between the Lines people do for Shakopee.”

Between the Lines is a volunteer-driven committee run by the Junior League of Minneapolis.  The mission of Between the Lines is to promote literacy and help incarcerated mothers//caretakers connect with their children.

Want behind the scenes information about the committee?  Four times a year, members bring books, tape recorders, and stationary to the Shakopee Correctional Facility.  The committee helps mothers do three things: 1) select an age appropriate book for their child 2) create a recording of the mother reading out loud, and 3) write a short note to their child.  A couple weeks later, at a ‘wrap party,’ Between the Lines members package and send the books, recordings, and personal letters to the children of participating mothers.

Between the Lines was established in 2010, and the organization has helped nearly 700* children connect with an incarcerated caregiver through reading.  To get involved or learn more about the committee, please contact beteweenthelines@jlminneapolis.org.

Post contributed by Jennifer Prod

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Learning To Play – A Unique Perspective of Empathy

This week, the JLM Advocacy blog features a post by two guest bloggers from the Junior League of Minneapolis’ Project Development Committee: Kelly Chaffee & Amy Spiehler.

We all want to consider ourselves as empathetic people, but what exactly is empathy?

This is a question that the Project Development (PD) committee focused on at the beginning of the League year.  Working with direction from the book Creative Confidence, our team was encouraged to be on a mission to approach problems from the perspective of the people we serve, rather than the creation of a solution to “fix” a perceived problem.  So together, we attempted to figure out how to hear the voices in our community.

In our second committee meeting, the group welcomed speaker Merri Lynn Jono, a former 4th grade teacher of Green Central Park Elementary School in Minneapolis.  Merri Lynn was introduced to the Junior League when her daughter was invited to attend the American Girl Fashion Show, an annual Junior League fundraiser.   Merri Lynn loved the show and wanted to find a way to extend the great experience her daughter had to her 4th graders at Green Central.  The next year, she contacted the Junior League of Minneapolis (JLM) and asked to bring some of her students to watch the show.

Back at school, Merri Lynn leveraged the American Girl curriculum in her after-school programming and her girls loved it.  Merri Lynn found ways to make the stories come alive.  When they were reading about Victorian-age character Samantha, Merri Lynn even took her students to the Victorian-age Alexander Ramsey House in order for the girls to learn about local history.

Merri Lynn shared the story of one of her students who loved the Josefina character so much that her father was determined to get her the doll. On the last day of school the girl was so excited about her new treasure that she asked Merri Lynn to come to her house that summer to play American Girl dolls.  As Merri Lynn sat down to play dolls, making little voices and creating stories of what the dolls were doing, the little girl was taken aback, giggling and shy that Ms. Jono was making play voices!  Merri Lynn realized that this little girl, like many of the students she had seen before, had never learned to play and to use her imagination to create story lines around her playroom.

It really struck the PD group that a little girl might not understand how to interact and play with a doll.  Project Development realized that part of teaching kids to read requires the inclusion of the softer skills of learning: having  fun while you’re in a lesson so that it really sticks with you, being a kid and being awed by something that you’ll keep going back to learn more.  Merri Lynn’s story really struck our hearts as she showed us the perspective of her students.  Project Development continues to find way to integrate empathy in all of our community conversations and we really appreciated Merri Lynn joining us to show us the value of it.

Reading To Young Children Fosters Critical Language Skills

A new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics states that parents who read to their children build critical language skills, literacy development and parent-child relationships.  Children are also more likely to be interested in reading once they reach school age.

Despite the report’s findings, the National Survey of Children’s Health found that only 34 percent of children younger than 5 years old, in families below the poverty threshold, were read to on a daily basis, compared with 60 percent of children from affluent families.  Recent research from Stanford University found that by the age of eighteen months, children from low-income families heard approximately 30 million fewer words than children from affluent families.

Source: http://aapnews.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/06/24/aapnews.20140624-2

Language Gap Starts As Early As 18 Months

New research from Stanford University found that by the age of eighteen months, children from low-income families heard approximately 30 million fewer words then children from affluent families.

Anne Fernald, associate professor of psychology at Stanford, conducted research to determine how quickly and accurately young children identified objects based on simple verbal cues.

“By 2 years of age, these disparities are equivalent to a six-month gap between infants from rich and poor families in both language processing skills and vocabulary knowledge,” Fernald said. “What we’re seeing here is the beginning of a developmental cascade, a growing disparity between kids that has enormous implications for their later educational success and career opportunities.”

Despite the findings, Fernald does point to a silver lining in her research:

“The good news is that regardless of economic circumstances, parents who use more and richer language with their infants can help their child to learn more quickly.”

Source: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2013/september/toddler-language-gap-091213.html

Impact of Sequestration Cuts on Early Education

57,000 children nationwide, including 1,000 children in Minnesota, will be denied a place in Head Start and Early Head Start due to fallout from the sequester.  In addition to a reduction in the number of available spots, Head Start will be forced to:

  • Cut 1.3 million days of service
  • Provide 18,000 fewer hours of service through shortened school days
  • Terminate or reduce salaries of 18,000 employees

Source: Department of Health and Human Services

Head Start and Early Head Start are programs of the United States Department of Health and Human Services and provide comprehensive health, nutrition and education services to low-income children and their families.

Supporters of Head Start say research shows it offers substantial long-term benefits in key areas such as educational achievement while critics argue that Head Start has little or no lasting effects on its participants.

Worst Cuts to Head Start Since Program Began

 

1 Book for Every 300 Kids is Not OK: Give a Book to Children in Need

Did you know that children in low-income neighborhoods have limited access to books? Studies tell us the ratio of books to children is 1:300. That’s one book for 300 kids. In middle-income neighborhoods, it’s 13:1. In other words, 13 books for one child.

There is a Facebook campaign giving away books with every page like. There are only 2 days left to get involved…it’s a quick and easy way to get those in need books to read.

Click here for more information on the campaign.  Or, head straight to the Facebook campaign and like their page by clicking here.  Every like gets book in the hands of kids.