Ball State’s Research Design Studio examines impact of early literacy program in Hancock County


At Ball State’s Research Design Studio (RDS), an underlying philosophy is that “great research starts with a great idea.” This approach is evident when you consider RDS’s collaboration with the Hancock County Community Foundation (HCCF) and its community’s generous $ 2.4 million investment to improve kindergarten readiness across the county.

At the heart of the HCCF’s efforts is Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Foundation Imagination Library, a national program launched in 1995 that provides books to children from birth to five years old. Ultimately, the goal is to give them a solid foundation before they reach kindergarten.

The HCCF, in partnership with the Hancock County Public Library, kicked off this effort five years ago in 2016 by providing access to the program to county newborns and their families. The Progressive Enrollment Model, an option for a community to increase enrollment by adding a new eligibility age group each year, as well as a careful development plan to increase an endowment of at minus $ 2 million, made the Hancock County program sustainable.

Now that the program’s first cohort of children will enter kindergarten in the fall, HCCF President and CEO Mary Gibble is optimistic that the provision of quality home literacy materials to families in County of County Hancock has “moved the needle” and is delighted that Ball State’s RDS has designed and will implement the research component.

“From the moment we initialized the effort to deliver this program to our community, we knew it was essential to have a solid and professional assessment of its effectiveness once our first registrants started entering kindergarten. “Gibble said. “We explored many avenues and could not be happier that Ball State agreed to help us.”

According to Jerrell Cassady, professor of psychology — educational psychology and co-director of the Research Design Studio, the community partnership with HCCF fits well with the goal of RDS and will produce one of the most important studies on the effectiveness of educational programs. early childhood literacy to date. .

“While RDS helps its partners develop, implement and document research strategies that can be useful in any discipline, our expertise lies primarily in the educational and psychological areas. So this community partnership with the Hancock County Community Foundation is particularly exciting for us, ”Cassady mentioned. “And with about 2,700 students in the program, it looks like this will be a very important study of the Imagination Library in particular and early childhood literacy in general.”

The HCCF road to the library of imagination

According to Gibble, the level of education in Hancock County has always been a top priority for the HCCF, which has been aware of a gap in kindergarten readiness for some time.

“Studies have shown us that, on average, 40 percent of Hancock County children entering kindergarten had tests below or well below national literacy preparation standards,” Gibble said. “We wanted to expand our education efforts to children before they enroll in kindergarten and, more importantly, what we could do to make a positive and lasting difference in educational attainment. “

For several years, Gibble and the HCCF had known about the Imagination Library. Once the program grew and became nationwide from its humble beginnings in 1995, the group became more interested.

“We had heard very good comments from other parts of the country about the Imagination Library program, and in 2014 we launched a formal fundraising campaign which resulted in an endowment of $ 2.4 million to cover program delivery costs, ”Gibble said. “It’s a big company, but with big potential benefits. Our community has been incredibly generous.

While raising funds to support the program, the HCCF played a leading role in recruiting enrollment partners and volunteers such as the four county school systems, local libraries and hospitals who provided information. and Imagination Library registration forms for new parents. Hancock County Public Library verifies eligibility based on age and location, enters registration information into the Dollywood Foundation system, tracks address changes, and reports registration statistics on a monthly basis. “We couldn’t run the program without this important partnership,” says Gibble.

Cassady said the HCCF and the partners it recruited were able to achieve a participation rate of around 80 percent: “It’s just an incredible level of enrollment for a community-based early childhood intervention.

“To achieve this level of participation, it takes a coordinated and well-designed effort and committed volunteers, and all who participated are to be commended,” he continued.

What Gibble and the HCCF didn’t know in 2016 was that Imagination Library would play a critical role in academic success during a global pandemic. Every book was delivered to letterboxes in family homes across Hancock County during the pandemic, and these high-quality, age-appropriate books have become the most accessible educational material for Hancock County children under. five years.

“How and if the pandemic has an impact, the results of the study remain to be seen, but we know we have a partner at Ball State who will cover all angles,” Gibble said. “Having this type of resource in our own backyard is so exciting for us, and we are so grateful for this partnership. “

Serve our neighbors and our communities near and far

Here is one of Ball State’s guiding principles: “We don’t just educate students. We want to serve our neighbors and our communities, from near and far. “

When it comes to the community partnership with the HCCF, those words have once again been translated into action.

“While this project has the potential to be very important and to draw attention to the capabilities of RDS, it is also part of our ‘service model’. That is, we do this work without tapping into the resources of schools or the Hancock County Community Foundation which rightly focus on supporting student learning, ”Cassady said. “It’s part of our mission – it provides an exceptional experience for our students, both undergraduate and graduate, who will help work there. Most importantly, it provides what we believe to be exceptional and useful data for the benefit of our neighbors in Hancock County. “

In terms of timing, the initial planning work with the HCCF and the four school districts has been ongoing for several months, but Cassady expects the first round of findings examining the impact on kindergarten readiness will be completed d ‘by summer 2022.

Cassady and the RDS, along with the leadership of the HCCF, are finalizing details with the county’s four school societies and the Dollywood Foundation that will allow for a full analysis of the educational impacts of Imagination Library participation on county children. The effort will kick off in fall 2021 when the first cohort of enrolled children begin kindergarten.


Paul N. Strickland

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