As the education system has increasingly encouraged learning English, non-English speaking parents do not receive encouragement for and may even be discouraged from reading to their children. Cultural strengths such as telling stories or singing to their children (key proven factors to help early cognitive development) have not been emphasized. Further, the traditional message of “read to your kids so they will be better prepared for school” does not resonate as well in the Latino community due to a belief that learning begins in school, not at home. Lee y serás is a national bilingual early literacy campaign led by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the nation’s leading Hispanic advocacy organization; Scholastic, the global children’s publishing and media company; and Verizon, a leading provider of communication services.
Currently, 86 percent of Latino fourth-graders and 91 percent of Latino eighth-graders in the U.S. read at or below basic skill levels. Less than 25 percent of Latino 17-year-olds can read at the skill level necessary for success in college and the increasingly high-tech workplace. This achievement gap actually begins before children enter kindergarten. The goal of Lee y serás (Read and you will be) is to create long-term attitudinal and behavior changes that close the achievement gap for Latino children from birth to age 8 nationwide. A secondary goal is to create systemwide changes by working with institutions and communities that can promote literacy-rich environments. The campaign includes a six-week curriculum to train and empower parents and child care providers to play a first teacher role.
Prior to Lee y serás, Metropolitan Group was working on the development of a plan for a national early literacy campaign for NCLR and had conducted focus group research to develop a message framework that centers on succeeding in life. When we heard of a similar initiative being developed by Scholastic, we met with a team from Scholastic to explore collaboration with NCLR, and ultimately facilitated the merging of the two plans and the creation of a partnership. Metropolitan Group was then hired by Scholastic to develop a tagline for the campaign and a series of bilingual communication tools and support materials for the lead community-based organization in each of six pilot campaign markets (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Dallas and Washington, D.C.).
In addition, MG created a comprehensive online strategy for the campaign that guided the design of the campaign’s website and was responsible for all radio and Spanish language media relations. Prior to campaign launch, we also designed and co-led training efforts of local partner organizations. Trainings focused on usage of a toolkit, outreach to other nonprofit partners, outreach to and working with the media, and how to effectively access and maximize online resources.
The greatest challenge identified in engaging communities across the U.S. is the need for an inclusive framework that can be customized for the cultural/demographic needs of specific communities (e.g., Chicanos and Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles, Cubanos and South Americans in Miami, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in New York, etc.) as well as meet the unique literacy needs of these communities. It was critical to design a framework that embraced and could be customized to work with existing literacy efforts within communities rather than duplicate them.
Separate from the early literacy initiative, Metropolitan Group provided fundraising counsel to NCLR for three years (through December 2005). We wrote the case for support and conducted a feasibility study for NCLR’s Center for Community Educational Excellence $37.5 million campaign to secure funds for the comprehensive achievement gap initiative. We also facilitated the fundraising plan’s implementation. NCLR met its goal with the help of a $10 million grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which Metropolitan Group helped secure.
Lee y serás has now launched.