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  • Writer's pictureBenay Hicks

Book Babies at ZERO TO THREE


The first week in October, our

Book Babies Team Leader Meytal Barak joined 3,000 other early childhood professionals at ZERO TO THREE‘s annual conference in Hollywood, Florida. There she presented a poster entitled, “Using Dialogic Reading During Home Visits to Enhance Early Literacy Development and Family Engagement,” and joined fellow educators, healthcare professionals, home visitors, policy makers, and others interested in ensuring all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life.

During the first three years of life, emotionally nourishing relationships lay the foundation for lifelong health and well-being. By supporting the caring adults who touch the lives of infants and toddlers, ZERO TO THREE hopes to maximize their long-term impact in ensuring all infants and toddlers have a bright future. Their annual conference was not only an incredible opportunity for Meytal to share Book Babies with a wide audience of her peers; it also gave her the chance to network with and learn from organizations all over the country and even the world who share Book Harvest’s primary commitment to supporting families and children in their first three years of life.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Meytal when she returned from the conference to ask her some questions about the experience.

What were your biggest takeaways from the conference?

I had two big takeaways that really excited me. First, I was really happy to hear from other organizations that are thinking the same way we are about cross-system collaboration, particularly between families and communities. In Book Babies, we do a really good job of partnering both with families and other community organizations — of course, working with young children always means collaborating with families! This type of collaboration is so important to ensure that families have all the supports they need.

On this front, I was especially interested to learn about the ZERO TO THREE Safe Babies Court Team approach, which transforms child welfare into the practice of child “well-being” by using the science of early childhood development. The program connects babies and their families with the support and services they need to promote healthy child development, while at the same time ensuring speedier exits from the system. This kind of cross-system collaboration is exactly what we’re always working to do as best we can within Book Babies.

Secondly, I found myself thinking and learning a lot about data and evaluation. As an organization, Book Harvest values data and always ensures it informs our work. That’s why we put such a high priority on evaluating our Book Babies program, for example, through our longitudinal randomized control trial (RCT) in partnership with HighScope Educational Research Foundation. But because we understand the importance of building meaningful relationships, we are always particularly interested in qualitative data in addition to the traditional quantitative data we collect. For example, we emphasize asking parents about the benefits of daily reading for their child and the ways their family is benefitting from the program.

I was particularly intrigued to learn about efforts to create strong research questions to improve community well-being by looking at collaborative measures from an asset-based lens. If we’re going to tell a story based on data, we need to make sure the data we are collecting includes everyone’s voices — and traditional assessments don’t always do that. Dr. Junlei Li from the Harvard School of Education presented a plenary session entitled, “Achieving Quality with Equity,” which did a particularly good job of examining the idea that “what counts cannot always be counted, and what can be counted does not always count.” I am always thinking about how Book Babies helps to enrich and empower the human relationships that are at the core of our work with families.

What are the big questions you came away from the conference eager to dig into?

We talk a lot about the achievement gap, and in fact, Book Babies has as one of its main goals kindergarten readiness, which is most often measured by traditional assessments and standardized measures. But what we are learning is that it’s not just the child who needs to be ready for school, it’s the entire family. We are thinking more and more now about what school readiness means for entire families and how Book Babies can accompany families on their journey to kindergarten — and how that journey doesn’t stop at kindergarten enrollment. Often, when we report on outcomes, we are using non-inclusive measures, but I want to dig into ways that we can use more rich qualitative measures as well to ensure that our program is providing all the support families need. That’s why we’re so thrilled to have our new Early Childhood Services Navigator Wilmarie Cintron-Tyson on our team, to accompany families through the process of navigating early childhood education systems.

Want to learn more about the Book Babies program? Contact Book Babies Team Leader Meytal Barak at meytal@bookharvestnc.org.

Want to learn more about the Book Babies RCT? Contact Book Harvest Executive Director Ginger Young at ginger@bookharvestnc.org.

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