Virtual Story School
Your support over this last year allowed us to adapt our in-person programming and design to an entirely new digital platform to reach children without access to high-quality early education online through our bilingual Virtual Story School program.
Through a two-generation approach, every week children were immersed in shared reading and literacy activities while parents gained specific strategies, tools, and confidence to support their children’s early learning. Each week, children and families watched core curriculum videos focused on literacy and language skills, social emotional skills, and positive approaches to learning. Through our live learning sessions with our Family Literacy Specialists, children and parents join together online to share books and discuss their learning. Using the Make Way for Books App, families extended their learning throughout the week by sharing books and literacy and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) activities using what they already have at home. And, throughout the week families had the chance to connect, ask questions, and reflect on their learning through our Family Learning Space. Of course, thanks to your support, hundreds of families received a whole home library of high-quality multicultural books.
“For families like mine, where preschool is not in the budget, this experience has meant so much,” said a Story School parent. “We loved everything about the program—the experience of seeing your child focus on a project and share with other kids, being able to have this community with other families, watching these videos and learning together, and having access to these amazing books. We were absolutely amazed.”
Thanks to your support, 98% of children in the program developed increased vocabulary skills and 95% developed increased comprehension skills. Further, 100% of families gained skills to encourage their children’s curiosity through sharing books and hands-on learning.
Take a quick peek at what Virtual Story School looked like below.
Every week, we gathered children and families for Virtual Story School, creating an online learning community together. As a result of the program, 91% of families in the program felt more connected to other families after participating. Outside of our live learning sessions, families continued learning, doing "homework," and connecting with us throughout the week. It's hard to choose some of our favorite moments, but these are a few moments from Virtual Story School we loved.
Creating access to diverse books
Through programs like Virtual Story School, we affirm that families’ home languages, family stories and traditions, cultural knowledge, and diverse experiences are assets to their children’s literacy development and learning. Last year, your support provided books and programming for thousands of children. These books are a platform for learning and bonding – 89% of families share more books with their children as a result of participating in our programs. We provided culturally-responsive books in which children and families can see their own stories and learn about others as well as books in families’ home languages.
Last year, across all of our programs, we provided more than 31,000 quality books to children’s classrooms and homes.
The importance of these books and literacy experiences is seen in words like these from a family in our Virtual Story School program...
“My mom never really had time to read books with us. We definitely struggled in school. It was really hard for us and we barely made it through high school. The opportunity wasn’t there for us. If we had that love of reading when we were young, I think we would have had an easier time in school, maybe we would have continued to college….Never did I ever think that I’d have a bookshelf in my house. But now we do and it’s great. We received all of these great books from Make Way for Books - 20 books to fill up our bookshelf at home. This program has shown me the importance of reading with our children, how it’s going to make a big impact for them. Now, I’m trying to instill that love of reading with my son. I want him to be a great reader. I know that if this is going to make his life a lot easier..." shared a Virtual Story School participant.
In 2020-21, we worked to diversify the books we share with children, families, and educators even further and to ensure that a greater percentage of the books we share are created by BIPOC authors and illustrators. This work continues through all of our program strategies.
Make Way for Books App
Your support helped us to innovate and create new ways to impact families. We continued to develop features and content to better support families through the Make Way for Books App. This two-generation, bilingual early literacy and language tool accelerates children’s literacy gains by ensuring children have access to quality books at their fingertips, engaging families in research-based early literacy and related STEAM activities, and empowering parents with skills, knowledge, and resources they need to support their child’s learning in the critical birth to 5 years and beyond. With the Make Way for Books App families connect and bond with their children in their own language, in a way that is relevant and reflective of their culture by providing access to high quality diverse books, early education, and the science and research about early literacy and language development.
I love the Make Way for Books App. Usually when we would go to doctors appointments or have to be waiting in the car for a bit, we would always just give the kids the phone and give them Netflix or Disney Plus or something. But now, with the app, I make a better connection with my kids. Instead of just sitting there and letting them watch a video, we actually sit down and pick a book together. Even though the books are for younger kids, even my 10 year old will pick up the app and he will say 'I’m going to read this book today,'” shared a parent.
This year, we’re thrilled to announce that the Make Way for Books App received an A+ rating for educational content from Common Sense Media, the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of all kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. According to Common Sense Media, “Parents looking for some support in creating meaningful interaction with their little ones will find lots of great resources here [on the Make Way for Books App]. Videos and short blurbs cover lots of ground in helping parents, like how to "read" to a small baby and how to create opportunities for "serve and return" interactions. Make Way for Books features really wonderful encouragement and modeling for parents.”
The Make Way for Books App has now been scaled to provide bilingual, early literacy and learning support, and quality books to thousands of families across Arizona, the United States, and even internationally.
The Story Project
Through The Story Project we build community and collaboration among early childhood educators through communities of learning. Throughout the year, we provided professional development workshops and coaching that show educators effective ways they can quickly implement early literacy and language-rich interactions to foster skills among the young children in their care.
“Make Way for Books has inspired my teaching in many ways! I often take what I've learned in a [professional development workshop] on a Wednesday and start incorporating the strategies the next morning in my class,” shared a participating educator.
Throughout the year, our Early Literacy Specialists worked to provide high-quality resources and strategies into under-resourced preschool and childcare sites. Our team worked closely with educators to provide high-quality, diverse, and culturally-responsive books that mirror the cultures and languages of young children in their care.
“The professional development...the materials you provide...both of these things are invaluable as a teacher. To look forward to going [to workshops] and having materials you can use in your classroom the next day is a big deal. This has been a really great addition to my classroom and my own education... The workshops made me feel more confident in talking about my own experiences being an educator, and bringing my own knowledge to the table and collaborating with other teachers. And, the books are so carefully curated and chosen with intentionality. This [experience] has made me more excited about books and my kids are more excited, too,” shared a participating educator.
Through Cuéntame, we provide professional development that centers on the assets of biliteracy and bilingualism, provide high-quality books and resources, and build community among providers. We work to create meaningful opportunities for professional development that support these unique home-based environments. Through Cuéntame, we provided bilingual professional development for home-based care providers that specifically supports the needs of providers caring for children in their homes. Through workshops and coaching provided online, bilingual and multicultural books, and specific strategies, home-based care providers become part of a connected learning community of their peers and are able to take on their powerful role in supporting the early literacy and language development of young children in their care.
“Thank you very much for all your support so that I can be on another level of learning to help children in their language development and literacy, and to help them to create a more broad base to develop another language and be bilingual, through classes full of information, books, materials, videos, reading activities, drawing, sharing experiences and information with colleagues and all the support of our [early literacy] specialists Rosa and Jessica.”
This year, your support helped us launch a new Cuéntame Microcredential, an innovative digital course focused on early literacy and language development, as well as bilingualism practices in home-based care settings. This course is designed specifically for licensed home-based childcare providers in Arizona who speak Spanish and work with children ages birth to 5. Through this multi-month course, participants receive books, materials, and professional development credit.
The Cuéntame Microcredential was developed in partnership and collaboration with recognized researchers in the field of early childhood literacy, biliteracy, and bilingualism, including Dr. Iliana Reyes, Ph. D., Associate Dean, Academic Affairs and Community and Global Partnerships at the University of Arizona as well as Dr.Dina Castro, Ph. D., Professor and Velma E. Schmidt Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Education at the University of North Texas.
In 2019, we expanded our Neighborhood School Readiness Model to impact children, families, and educators in Maricopa County. Through Neighborhood School Readiness, we provided comprehensive early literacy programming to meet the diverse needs of young children, families, and educators. Our strategies achieve success by engaging and empowering families, supporting educators working with children, and develop children’s early literacy skills. Project strategies link together at each school, creating neighborhood school communities that help children thrive.
The project has been scaled to impact hundreds of young children, families, and educators annually. This year, the project connected hundreds of young children and families with early literacy and education opportunities during especially challenging times. The words of participating parents speak to the importance of this work...
“I would tell any parent, Make Way for Books is the best thing that could happen to your family...Seeing [my daughter's] evolution...it’s been a big change. She loves books. The thing I have loved about Make Way for Books is that we’re sharing books, yes, but we’re also sharing the meaning behind them. Books, they get our imaginations going. We talk about emotions. We get to talk about different perspectives. And we’re able to explore different cultures and teach our children that we may all celebrate different things and look different, but we are all the same..." shared a participating parent.
Through the success of the project, we’ve gained many requests for additional programming and in the coming year, we look forward to working with partners to expand this work to meet children and families in more underserved areas of Arizona.
Partnering to create lasting change
Together, we do more and we do it better. At Make Way for Books, we know partnership is essential to ensuring that children have nurturing early educational experiences at home. We are proud to have partnered with hundreds of families, education professionals, nonprofits, agencies, home visitors, and more throughout the year to ensure our community is a place where young children can thrive.
Every partnership means we can collectively support our youngest children by creating real opportunities for early learning - such as creating partnerships with local school districts, nonprofits, and educational organizations, working in collaboration to facilitate our Parent Advocacy Group, partnering with home visitation professionals, creating a new partnership with the Native American Advancement Foundation to reach families in more rural areas, and bringing the Make Way for Books App to children and families across Arizona and the nation in collaboration with Read On Arizona and the Campaign for Grade Level Reading. Thank you to our partners for helping to make all of this impact possible over the last year.
Partnering with parents to inform programs
This year, in a partnership between Make Way for Books, United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, and First Focus on Kids, we continued to facilitate a Parent Advisory Group (PAG) comprised of parents from family engagement programming provided by Make Way for Books and a number of community partners. The PAG provides critical feedback about their own experiences in family engagement programs and share areas where there is still need for support for families with young children.
The current cohort of the Parent Advisory Group members are working on amplifying familial voices and documenting family perspectives in relation to the current workforce climate as it relates to health, wellness, and education opportunities for children and families. The group also works to identify and pursue their own educational, professional, and life goals, including engaging in their children’s health and education systems. During this unprecedented year, the Parent Advisory Group has also been working to create resource tool kits for families in order to support other children and families in our community.
Thanks to our generous supporters
Our impact is only possible thanks to generous support from our community. Thank you for helping us create a community where young children can become curious, creative, and compassionate readers and learners. We couldn’t do this without you!
Click below to see a list of our generous donors
Thanks to our amazing volunteers
We couldn’t be more thankful to the incredible volunteers that dedicated more than 1,600 hours to help keep our programs moving forward over the last year. Thank you to each and every one of our volunteers, including those who helped create resources and delivered books to preschools, packed and delivered backpacks filled with books to children and families, provided content and support for the Make Way for Books App, provided guidance and leadership on our Board of Directors, and so much more. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.