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New RIF Multicultural Literacy Campaign Aims to Close Reading Gap

—Campaign targets parents and caregivers of young children—

WASHINGTON—June 12, 2007—Addressing a persistent gap in minority children reading scores, Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF) today launched the RIF Multicultural Literacy Campaign to promote and support early childhood literacy in African-American, Hispanic, and Native American communities.

RIF's multi-year campaign, supported by Macy's, provides parents and caregivers of children under the age of 5 with new educational resources for building children’s language skills. The campaign includes a number of components: a new early childhood website and educational video available at www.rif.org, both funded under a grant from the Star Schools Program of the U.S. Department of Education; a partnership with the National Black Child Development Institute to conduct literacy workshops; and multicultural book donations for schools.  In collaboration with media partners Univision Communications Inc., the leading Spanish-language media company in the U.S., and Radio One, Inc., which owns and/or operates 70 radio stations located in 22 urban markets, RIF will air a public education campaign to begin in August.

"Parents have tremendous impact on how well their children develop language skills in the first five years of life," said Carol H. Rasco, president and CEO of RIF, the nation’s largest non-profit children’s literacy organization. "The RIF Multicultural Literacy Campaign reinforces this message and offers parents and caregivers new resources to help them get their children prepared for success with reading and in school."

Reading scores among African-American, Hispanic, and Native American fourth graders significantly lag behind those of white and Asian children. According to the most recent U.S. Department of Education data, 76 percent of white and 73 percent of Asian children score at or above basic reading level compared to 42 percent of African-American, 46 percent of Hispanic and 48 percent of Native American children.

"As a country, we cannot let so many students fall behind," said Claude Mayberry, Jr., founder and CEO of Science Weekly, and chair of the RIF Multicultural Advisory Board. "This RIF campaign is the start of a renewed effort to engage parents, caregivers, community organizations, educators, and corporations in a comprehensive approach to improving literacy outcomes among African-American, Hispanic, and Native American communities."

Comprehensive Campaign Planned

The RIF Multicultural Literacy Campaign will evolve with direction from an advisory board of experts and support from funders and partners. The initial components include:

  • RIF's Leading to Reading Website (www.rif.org) —a free online educational resource in English and Spanish (Semillitas de Aprendizaje) to help parents and caregivers develop the language skills of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. RIF’s fun and interactive site offers stories, nursery rhymes, and other activities for adults to experience together with young children.
  • RIF's Leading to Reading Video—a new English and Spanish language DVD offering caregivers and parents instructional information and suggested activities to help develop their child's language skills. The video can be viewed online at www.rif.org.
  • Literacy Workshops—RIF plans to partner with a range of community organizations to conduct early childhood literacy training sessions with caregivers and parents. As part of this program, RIF will partner with the National Black Child Development Institute to conduct its Care to Read early childhood literacy training sessions for educators working with African-American children from low-income communities.
  • Public Education Campaign—RIF will air public service announcements on local and national Univision TV stations, local Univision radio stations and on Radio One to encourage parents to spend more time talking, reading and writing together with their young children to better prepare them for school. The campaign will feature messages from: Ben Carson, M.D., a prominent pediatric surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital; Dorothy Strickland, Ph.D., an education expert on early childhood literacy at Rutgers University; Neida Sandoval, news anchor for the Univision Network and its daily morning program "Despierta América"; and Russ Parr, host of the Russ Parr Morning Show on Radio One.
  • Multicultural Book Collections—With funding from Macy's, RIF will donate more than 250 multicultural children’s book collections to kindergarten classrooms in low-income communities throughout the U.S. Each collection includes 50 hard-bound books with themes related to African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American children.

"There is growing research and awareness of the importance of children being exposed to books that reflect their own culture," said Violet Harris, professor of curriculum and instruction, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "When children see themselves in the books they read at a young age, they are more likely to want to read more often"

Macy’s Provides Initial Support

Funding for the multicultural book collections and the public education campaign is being provided by Macy's through its annual nationwide promotion for RIF and children’s literacy held during the back to school season.

“Thanks to the generosity of Macy's customers, we can support RIF’s multicultural literacy campaign and its important mission to help all children excel in reading,” said Bill Hawthorne, vice president, diversity strategies and legal affairs for Macy's. Last year, we raised $1.2 million during our promotion for RIF. This year, we hope for even greater success."

In 2006, RIF’s free book distribution and literacy training programs served an estimated 1 million African-American and 1.5 million Hispanic children and families, most from low-income communities. In addition, RIF programs on or near reservations provided books and literacy resources to an estimated 90,000 thousand Native American children and families. RIF also has book distributions that reach 80,000 children enrolled in Head Start programs in the U.S.  

The RIF Multicultural Literacy Campaign advisory council consists of the following individuals: 

  • Margarita Calderon, Ph.D., principal research scientist, Center for Research on Education of Students Placed at Risk, Johns Hopkins University
  • Bette Keltner, Ph.D., dean and professor, School of Nursing & Health Studies, Georgetown University
  • Violet Harris, Ph.D., professor, curriculum and instruction, University of Illinois of Urbana-Champaign
  • Michael Lopez, Ph.D., executive director and co-founder, National Center for Latino Child and Family Research
  • Claude Mayberry, Jr., Ph.D., founder and CEO, Science Weekly, and board member for RIF and the National Council on Educating Black Children
  • Joshua Murfree, Ph.D., vice president of programs, 100 Black Men Coalition
  • Dorothy Strickland, Ph.D., Samuel DeWitt Proctor Chair in Education, Rutgers University

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Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF), founded in 1966, motivates children to read by working with them, their parents, and community members to make reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life. RIF’s highest priority is reaching underserved children from birth to age 8. Through community volunteers in every state and U.S. territory, RIF provides 4.6 million children with 15 million new, free books and literacy resources each year. For more information and to access reading resources, visit RIF’s website at www.rif.org.

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For more information, contact:
Layla Wright-Contreras,
Media Relations Manager
202-536-3528

New RIF Multicultural Literacy Campaign Aims to Close Reading Gap