Senator Cochran Announces Wide-Ranging Literacy Initiative in Mississippi

Posted by PBS Publicity on

- PBS KIDS® TV Series BETWEEN THE LIONS Will Help Children Learn to Read -

Jackson, Miss. -- May 29, 2001 -- Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and officials from the PBS Ready to Learn Service, WGBH Boston and Mississippi ETV today announced a distinctive year-long project using the Emmy Award-winning PBS KIDS program BETWEEN THE LIONS and a variety of related resources and workshops to boost literacy in Indianola, Miss. and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians in Philadelphia, Miss.

The key purpose of the BETWEEN THE LIONS Mississippi Literacy Initiative is to increase the early reading skills of children in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade -- critical ages for establishing a strong literacy foundation. In total, nearly 1,000 children will participate in the project.

The initiative is being undertaken by Mississippi ETV and the producers of BETWEEN THE LIONS -- WGBH Boston and Sirius Thinking, Ltd. It will include a year-long research study directed by Dr. Cathy Grace, coordinator of the Early Childhood Institute at Mississippi State University, to assess the effectiveness of this initiative. The $400,000 project is financed by the Public Broadcasting Service and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting through a Ready to Learn grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Senator Cochran has been a long-time leader in establishing and increasing funds for the PBS Ready to Learn program, which is public television's effort to address the nation's number one education goal -- ensuring that every child enters school ready to learn and succeed.

"Mississippi has a tradition of innovative education projects with public television," said Sen. Cochran. "I'm delighted that the Choctaw Tribal School and Indianola Public Schools are joining with Mississippi ETV to participate in this initiative."

"Sen. Cochran has consistently championed the PBS Ready to Learn program as well Mississippi ETV, and far-reaching initiatives such as the BETWEEN THE LIONS literacy project in Mississippi would never have been possible without his support," said Larry Miller, president and general manager of Mississippi ETV. "This project has the potential to make a real difference for these Mississippi children in reading and ultimately in acquiring the skills they need to succeed in school."

"The project is an excellent example of how local public television stations take the lead in establishing community partnerships that build social capital," added Jinny Goldstein, PBS' senior vice president, education. "This program exemplifies the contribution made by the PBS Ready to Learn Service to the national educational goal of achieving childhood literacy."

BETWEEN THE LIONS helps children learn to read in a fun-filled, variety-show format that delights both kids and grown-ups. A family of feline librarians -- Theo and Cleo and their two cubs, Lionel and Leona -- is at the epicenter of a mix of colorful puppet characters, live action, animation, skits, and music.

Earlier research already demonstrates that the show is working. A recent University of Kansas study concluded that watching BETWEEN THE LIONS significantly improves early reading skills. Kindergartners who watched as few as 8.5 hours of BETWEEN THE LIONS over the course of the two-month study raised their test scores 64 percent in many early reading skills, while those who did not watch the program raised their scores by 25 percent.

"Our previous studies have shown that children who watch BETWEEN THE LIONS demonstrate a dramatic improvement in their reading skills," said Judith Stoia, executive producer for BETWEEN THE LIONS. "We're enormously excited to bring this program and its educational materials to schools, libraries, Head Start programs, and childcare centers in Mississippi."

An advisory board including key representatives from the two communities as well as other state leaders in literacy and education will guide the BETWEEN THE LIONS Mississippi Literacy Initiative. The advisory board will provide input on the overall direction of the project, the workshop content and materials, and strategies for disseminating results and replicating the project.

The project will offer participants these resources:

  • One-day workshop for all classroom teachers on the most effective strategies for teaching reading with the BETWEEN THE LIONS resources;
  • One-day workshop for Head Start teachers and childcare providers on ways to use BETWEEN THE LIONS resources to build early reading skills;
  • BETWEEN THE LIONS project handbook for all teachers and childcare providers, with background information, activity ideas, and reproducible materials;
  • Set of 55 thirty-minute BETWEEN THE LIONS videos for each classroom, Head Start center, childcare center, and public library;
  • BETWEEN THE LIONS teacher's guides (for kindergarten and first grade), posters, and bookmarks;
  • Set of companion children's books for each classroom, Head Start center, childcare center, and public library;
  • CD-ROM with sample pages from the BETWEEN THE LIONS Web site (pbskids.org/lions) for each classroom, Head Start center, childcare center, and public library; and
  • Ongoing follow-up and support.

Teachers and child care providers will be asked to:

  • Show BETWEEN THE LIONS programs at least 2x/week;
  • Carry out follow-up reading and other related activities that use the program content, for at least 15 minutes after viewing a program;
  • Use other related resources, such as the companion books, teacher's guide, and Web site;
  • Keep a weekly log of their use of the television programs and materials, and their observations about the project's impact;
  • Participate in regularly scheduled follow-up meetings about the project; and
  • Provide ongoing feedback.

Each child in participating classrooms and childcare centers will also receive a variety of take-home BETWEEN THE LIONS educational materials.

Research results are expected to be released in July 2002.

BETWEEN THE LIONS is funded in part by a Ready To Learn grant from the United States Department of Education through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major support is also provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Park Foundation, The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Charles H. Revson Foundation, and the Institute for Civil Society. National corporate sponsorship is provided by Cheerios¨.

WGBH Boston is America's preeminent public broadcasting producer. More than one-third of PBS's prime-time lineup and companion Web content as well as many public radio favorites are produced by WGBH. The station also is a a pioneer in educational outreach and multimedia, and in access technologies for people with disabilities. For more information visit www.wgbh.org.

Sirius Thinking, Ltd. is an educational entertainment company. Founders of Sirius Thinking, Ltd. are: Christopher Cerf, founding director and former editor-in-chief of the Children's Television Workshop's Educational Books, Records, Games and Toys Division, as well as a Grammy and Emmy Award-winner for his musical contributions to Sesame Street and The Electric Company; Michael Frith, former executive vice president and creative director for Jim Henson Productions and former editor of Dr. Seuss's Beginner Books at Random House; Norman Stiles, eleven-time Emmy Award-winning former head writer of Sesame Street; and John Sculley, former CEO of Apple Computer and PepsiCo.

PBS, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, is a private, nonprofit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation's 347 public television stations. Serving nearly 100 million people each week, PBS enriches the lives of all Americans through quality programs and education services on noncommercial television, the Internet and other media. More information about PBS is available at PBS.org.


- PBS -

Kevin Dando