What made 2012 a stellar year? Reflections from Donna DiFillippo

This is excerpted from Donna DiFillippo’s Executive Director message in Raising A Reader MA’s FYE 2012 Annual Report. You can read the entire annual report online.


Donna DiFillippo takes time out to read with a young visitor to the Raising A Reader MA office.

It was a stellar year at Raising A Reader MA!  We reached more than 8,000 children and families in seven core high need communities, and have more than 38,000 high-quality children’s books in circulation. Our five-part, evidence-based parent education workshops were implemented statewide, and for the first time, our Chelsea Parent Ambassadors facilitated some of these workshops for their friends and neighbors. In addition to our partnerships with centers of early education, public schools, and home visiting programs, we reached children and families in new and innovative settings – adult education programs, ESL classes, and places of worship.  With the generous support of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, we reached more than 1,000 children through “Summer Story Times in the Park” events, where we demonstrated interactive reading for parents and provided extension activities and books for their kids.

The road ahead:  We have accomplished much over the past year but there is much yet to do. Statewide, 39% of third graders scored below  proficient in reading on the 2012 MCAS; the same percentage of children that research suggests arrive at school without the skills necessary for early academic success. This is not a coincidence…. literacy begins at birth.

 By the time a child is three years old, her brain is 80% the size it will be in her adulthood. If that three year-old child is from a low-income family, she has already heard 30 million fewer words than her upper income peers. And so it begins….the achievement gap is evident well before a child even enters school.

Parents have power!  Research shows that a family’s active participation in their child’s education is twice as predictive of academic learning as a family’s socioeconomic status. And the earlier in a child’s educational process parent involvement begins, the more powerful the impact. The most effective forms of parent involvement are  those that engage parents in working directly with their children on learning activities at home…like shared reading.

Our goal at Raising A Reader MA is to flood high-need communities with our signature red book bags, parent workshops, and other events in order to break the cycle of low literacy in families.  And our strategy is working…families who participate in our program are 26% more likely to read three or more times per week with their children. This behavior is linked to demonstrated improvements in children’s vocabulary, grammar, phonemic awareness, letter knowledge, and memory for language.

Thanks to our partners:  Of course, none of this work is done in isolation – Raising A Reader MA is by nature a collaborative organization. All successes are equally shared among our program partners in the community, our deeply committed board of directors, and many of you who have supported us along the way. With your help, we will continue our work until every child has an equal opportunity for achievement, and every parent has the opportunity to excel in what may be their most important role – their child’s first teacher.

Thank you for a great year!