Posted December 14, 2009

Unique program creates mini publishing moguls

CONTACT: Renee Cree,, 215-707-1583

“Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, and he lived with his family.”

This story about the 44th president begins much the way you’d expect a book written for first graders. But its author doesn’t have a master’s in education; in fact, the writer and illustrator is Darcell, a six-year old student at the Frederick Douglass School in North Philadelphia.

Darcell and many other kindergarten and first-grade students are something of mini-publishing moguls; for the past two years, they have worked with Temple University students through Kids Write and Create, a mentoring program designed to improve literacy skills among inner-city kindergarten and first grade children.

Brian Goldstein/Temple University
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“We targeted these students because existing research shows that students who aren’t reading at grade level by the end of first grade are unlikely to ever catch up,” said Rena Krakow, an associate professor of communication sciences and disorders in the College of Health Professions and Social Work and director of Kids Write and Create.

In order to combat the city’s high adult illiteracy rate – 22 percent, compared to the national average of about 14 percent, literacy experts say it’s important to catch children as early as possible to prevent adult illiteracy.

“To that end, we designed this program to be highly motivating to children of this age,” said Krakow.

Each semester, a Temple student from the department of communication sciences and disorders is paired one-on-one with a Douglass student, and together they plan, compose, revise, finish and read their own books, at levels best suited to each child.

The children dictate their text to their Temple buddies, who type the text, scan in the children’s illustrations and print and bind the books, including a cover and an “About the Author” page. In the fall, children work on personal narratives, and in the spring, they write on a pre-chosen topic. At the end of each semester, the bound books are presented to the authors and their families at a special celebration held in their honor.

Last spring, the topic was famous African-Americans. Darcell chose the first African-American president. Other students chose their school’s namesake Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as some famous athletes and musical stars.

“It is fun that you can write something that you want,” said one child.

Krakow says Kids Write and Create differs from other kid writing programs in that the children are mentored individually by Temple students who are studying to be speech/language pathologists, whose scope of practice includes literacy development and disorders. These students are supervised by Temple faculty with degrees in linguistics, special education, and speech/language pathology.

“Whereas classroom teachers can only provide limited attention to individual students and most one-on-one programs provide minimally trained volunteers, our mentors have the knowledge and skills to support the children’s early literacy development,” said Krakow.

So far, the results have been positive; scores on the Test of Early Reading Ability show a significant increase in skills among children involved in the program.

And while the crux of the program is to improve literacy skills, Krakow said it’s also been wonderful for the children’s self-esteem: “It felt good because I know how to write a book,” said one child.  “I learned to read it by myself,” said another.

Other faculty members involved in Kids Write and Create are Megan Dunn Davison, clinical associate professor and Brian Goldstein, chair of the department of communication sciences and disorders. Kids Write and Create is part of the North Star program, an after-school activities program based at the Frederick Douglass School and directed by Betsy Wice. The program has received funding from grants from the Barra Foundation the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation, and the friends and family of Maryanne MacNamee.