By Mary Westervelt, director of marketing and communications
Literacy doesn’t occur in isolation.
That simple statement is at the heart of WAKE Up and Read, a coalition of 35 different agencies and organizations across Wake County founded in 2011. From the Wake County Public Schools Office of Early Learning to The Daniel Center for Math and Science, from the Wake County Libraries to the Consulate General of Mexico, these diverse stakeholders envision a future where “every child in Wake County will be inspired, equipped, and empowered to read.”
Managed by the Wake County Public School System, WAKE Up and Read offers in-person programs, like Book Drive and Grab, Go, and Read. Their Ready4K offering is provided as a complement that doesn’t need any additional face-time. Because as with all of their offerings, their goal for Ready4K is to empower parents in ways that meet them where they are.
Meeting Parents Where They Are
WAKE Up and Read first began offering Ready4K in 2018. When thinking about why the program continues to be a priority for them year after year, Director Lori Krzeszewski says it comes down to three key features of Ready4K.
1. Accessible to families
As an organization dedicated to removing barriers to early literacy, WAKE Up and Read sees it as critical that their programs and initiatives can be accessed easily by as many families as possible. “When I look at programs, I ask ‘What are the barriers to access this resource?’” says Lori. “‘Does it require time or transportation? How many steps are we asking them to go through?’”
Since it’s delivered via text message, Ready4K shows up for parents right where they are, when they want it. “It’s a resource that’s always in their pocket,” says Lori.
This accessibility, along with the fact that the activities suggested by the messages require no extra time or supplies to implement, means parents actually use it. Ninety-nine percent of Wake County parents who responded to a Ready4K survey at the end of the 2019-20 school year said they do Ready4K activities with their child at least once per week.
“They like that it stays on their phone,” Lori says. “They can access it from anywhere when they have downtime with their children.”
2. Builds knowledge & routine
A veteran teacher, Lori also looks for programs that build knowledge over time. “As an educator, everything is a teachable moment. I forget that for a lot of parents they’re not thinking through this lens.” Some of the messages present ideas that are new to parents, while others might reinforce something parents already know they can do to help their child.
“It pings them, they shift their attention, and this can contribute to long-term behavior change,” Lori explains. Ready4K is based on behavioral science research showing that “nudge” messages that embed new ideas into daily routines can lead to significant changes. Research on the Ready4K methodology showed that children whose caregivers received Ready4K messaging gained 2 to 3 months additional growth over their peers.
3. Easy to use
When evaluating programs, WAKE Up and Read needs to know that the solution they’re offering makes life easier for families. Lori said that she asks herself whether any new program is something that parents have to uptake on their own time after the initial implementation, or if it keeps working for parents for the long run.
This made Ready4K a good fit for WAKE Up and Read. The whole child curriculum is automatically texted to parents all 52 weeks of the year for every year from birth to fourth grade. Parents are not required to take any action to continuously participate, other than read their text messages. The program grows along with their child; there’s different content geared toward each age.
“The feedback I get from parents is that they really appreciate that it is simple, it doesn’t require anything additional, and it stays on their phone,” says Lori. Of Wake County parents who responded to a September survey on Ready4K, 97% said they find the messages easy or very easy to understand. One parent responded that “Es muy importante saber cómo ayudar a nuestros hijos y los consejos que recibo cada día me sirven mucho (It is very important to know how to help our children and the advice I receive every day helps me a lot).”
Reaching More Families
WAKE Up and Read’s focus on meeting families where they are also applies to how they enroll families in the program. Lori works with partners in her diverse coalition to insert Ready4K into “paperwork moments” where families are already engaged in some sort of registration process.
For example, as families fill out their information packet during pre-K screenings, they receive an application to enroll in Ready4K. Similarly, Lori has staff members introduce Ready4K during book distributions, transitioning the moment from a transaction to a conversation about all the resources available to help families support their children’s learning and growth.
“The feedback I get from parents is that they really appreciate that it is simple, it doesn’t require anything additional, and it stays on their phone.”–Lori Krzeszewski, Director
Lori’s partners also promote Ready4K to families through more traditional publicity, like newsletters from Wake County Smart Start. “The more people can embed enrollment in Ready4K into their own process or promote the program to their families, the more folks we’re able to reach.”
At the time of writing this, WAKE Up and Read has more than 5,000 children enrolled in Ready4K. Lori looks forward to doubling this number by reaching more children as well as caregivers.
“It’s not just for parents. If you are part of the family, like a grandmother, you can be part of this too.” In a survey of Wake County parents conducted in December 2020, 99% of respondents said their relationship with their children is stronger after doing Ready4K activities.
Results like that motivate Lori’s ambition to grow the program in her community. “I would love to see us reach 10,000 families.”
Supporting All Ages
Most of the Wake County families enrolled in Ready4K so far are those with preschool-aged children. But Lori knows that literacy and school readiness begin many years before preschool.
“The sooner we get them reading and the sooner we get them that support, the more opportunities we can provide,” Lori says.
Since Ready4K content spans from birth through fourth grade, Lori wants to reach families of very young children and babies as well. “That way, the parents are getting those tips and learning those strategies sooner instead of waiting until children enter school.”