This growing program is addressing Detroit’s literacy crisis — just don’t say it’s filling a ‘word gap’

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LENA Start began in Detroit last year with 50 parent-child-pairs. Thanks to promising results, local supporters — including Black Family Development, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the LENA Foundation, the Michigan Children’s Health Access Plan, and Brilliant Detroit — plan to enroll another 150 parent-child pairs in Detroit. LENA Start’s approach is based on research showing that when parents make a habit of talking to a very young child, that child is more likely to learn to read on grade level, with all the long-term benefits that come with literacy.

That’s a big deal in all of the 20 cities where LENA Start operates, but the stakes are even higher in Detroit, where a tough new “read-or-flunk” state law, taking effect next year, will tighten the screws on a citywide literacy crisis. Data from LENA show that the program is having a positive impact. “What our data are telling us is that for every one month a child spends in LENA Start, there are two months of growth,” said Kenyatta Stephens, Chief Operating Officer of Black Family Development, Inc., one of the program’s funders. The program boasts a 90 percent graduation rate, and will expand to serve 150 parent-child-pairs next year.

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