When 20,000 San Antonio families with four and five-year-olds at home checked their email Wednesday, it was likely with a grin or a giggle.
The innovative parent engagement tool “ReadyRosie” began delivering one and two-minute videos that show parents how to teach age-appropriate lessons to their children using everyday situations and readily-available materials.
The 400 short videos, delivered by email to registered users once per weekday for the entire year, might encourage families to count avocados in the grocery cart to teach number concepts, or build vocabulary on a car ride or around the kitchen table. All for $5 per family. In any case, the lessons are likely to be engaging, accessible and fun — not to mention, available in English and Spanish.
“Oral vocabulary is the number one predictor of school readiness,” said Emily Roden, parent, former educator, educational sales consultant, and the founder and developer of Denton-based ReadyRosie.
Emily and her husband Kevin Roden know – and research shows – that “Parents play a larger role in developing oral vocabulary than any other adult.”
That includes teachers. Imagine a tool that engages parents, educators and childcare providers with children to promote literacy and numeracy — and with proven results.
According to ReadyRosie’s research, 82% of families who use the tools say that their child is more excited about learning at home. Participating children’s numeracy scores and literacy scores rise by 82% and 85%, respectively.
The Digital Divide can be a big deal, particularly for cities like San Antonio, where at-risk families may not have high-speed Internet access at home — so a tool that’s available via smart phone is a wise tool indeed.
“We find that young families, the majority of them are online at least once a day, every day,” Emily said.
ReadyRosie, named after the Rodens’ oldest child, has kept the delivery model simple so that even folks who lack a computer in their home, but still have a smart phone in their hands, can access it, Kevin said.
Access and ease of use were part of its appeal to P16Plus Council of Bexar County, the backbone organization that ultimately did the nuts-and-bolts work of bringing ReadyRosie to San Antonio. Steve Hussain, P16Plus’ director of community partnerships, saw the potential.
“Let’s make this as simple as possible,” he said. “All parents have to do is check their inbox.”
It is in fact this “daily ding,” as Roden calls the video email’s regular arrival, that reminds parents of a targeted educational opportunity for their children – an opportunity that can help them excel before they even get to school. And yes, there’s a ReadyBaby, for infants to toddler-aged children.
“What we tell communities is, ‘You’ve got a good tool here, you’ve got a great resource — but it’s only as good as (your ability) to get people using it,’” he said.
On a global level, mobile phones may someday hold the key to bringing literacy, affordably, to the world’s poor, as a recent Forbes magazine article points out, using United Nations research.
Closer to home, we know that early childhood literacy and numeracy – understanding words and numbers, and using them with ease – has an impact on a student’s success in school over time, even as far as graduation rates. It certainly impacts reading readiness, and that in turn affects student success throughout school.
But it’s not just a Digital Divide that hampers learning, said P16Plus’ Hussain.
“There’s a challenge for parents who don’t have access, but there’s one even for those who do, but don’t necessarily know what to do,” he said.
That instruction is the crux of what ReadyRosie will offer 20,000 families in San Antonio for an entire year, starting Wednesday. School districts in Austin, Arlington and several states outside Texas have previously purchased Ready Rosie, but San Antonio is unique in having multiple partners working together.
“What the City of San Antonio and its Head Start program, along with Pre-K for SA, wants to do is to provide to our parents — starting with parents in need, but not just them, all parents — an easily accessible, professionally prepared, legitimate way to learn how to talk, play and be with their young child in a way that facilitates their maximum potential,” said Head Start Executive Director Mikel Brightman. “That’s what ReadyRosie is all about.”
Head Start runs 27 childcare centers in San Antonio, reaching 3,020 children a year, according to Brightman. Workforce Solutions Alamo, which provides childcare subsidies in the community, is another important partner in the Ready Rosie rollout. Together they are two of the biggest sites, along with multiple schools, parents and agencies, according to Hussain.
“Now we have thousands of childcare workers who are going to receive this tool,” Brightman exulted. “I can’t even imagine the potential!”
Head Start Special Projects Manager Mica Clark-Peterek first learned about ReadyRosie about a year and a half ago at an International Reading Association conference held here. Once she learned more about the program and saw the research behind it, she was sold. “You’re going to hear passion when you talk to Mica,” Brightman warned me earlier, not unreasonably.
“For us, knowing that parent engagement is such a big deal, we’re like, ‘We’re in. We’re doing it. Who wants to join us? Let’s all work together. Let’s do it,'” Clark-Peterek said.
Her biggest question was, “How can we get this to more families in San Antonio? Let’s think about other ways we can do this. Let’s talk to P16Plus and see what they think, and maybe do something in collaboration.”
“P16Plus has been a deeply connected partner in this city that causes collaboration to work,” Brightman said.
“We got immediate buy-in,” added Hussain. “Once people saw it they were all over it. It was like we didn’t have to actually convince anybody.”
What was needed, though, were more partners to bring down the per-family cost of ReadyRosie, and make it more affordable. Over time, the involvement of Alamo Colleges, AVANCE San Antonio, City of San Antonio Head Start, Eastside Promise Neighborhood, Parent Child Inc., Family Service Association and Workforce Solutions Alamo, among others, in a collaborative effort headed up by P16Plus, brought the price down from $35 to $5 a family. Suddenly far more families could participate.
The “unique, collaborative approach” among San Antonio’s educational stakeholders is part of what has so impressed Kevin. The city was already a known quantity when it comes to Pre-K, he remarked.
“But adding the excitement of so many players in a community is what makes something like this work,” he said.
“ReadyRosie is already a very innovative model, but this (cooperative effort) is helping it get into the homes of the families who are the most at-risk. Maybe they’re not the ones showing up at Pre-K programs or at family nights, and this is making it easier to reach those folks,” he said. “The more people you have in a community helping something like this roll out, the more successful it will be getting people to actually use it.”
Ideally it will be a groundswell after this week’s start, echoed Brightman.
“Maybe in a year from now, it’ll be everywhere in this city. That’s the goal! Wouldn’t that be cool? And you know, we’re the kind of city who could pull that off,” she added. “I think we’ve made tremendous progress in learning how to work together.”
Clark-Peterek’s vision could be even stronger.
“I hope that people rally around it, and that excitement is built. Then maybe we can get it funded city-wide, so that when you leave the hospital (after giving birth), you’ll leave with a ReadyRosie subscription, or that Ready Rosie videos are playing on KLRN or at the doctor’s office or the dentist’s office,” she said.
KLRN is a partner through its “Play and Learn” early childhood workshops, said KLRN vice president and COO Julie Coan.
“Just look at all these organizations that came together to bring these tools to our families,” Clark-Peterek said. “It says a lot when you have so many different organizations that are willing to sit at the table together.”
But look at that table more closely: It might be families counting avocados together, in English and Spanish, and smiling.
*Featured image: A screenshot from the ReadyRosie introduction video.