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Local Headstart programs part of study

Children and families in the area are going to be a part of a Scholastic-funded study on early childhood literacy.

In a partnership between Scholastic and Mahube-Otwa, various families have committed to take part in the six-month program that will teach parents to read with their children and create fun activities to help them learn to read.

There will also be a control group that isn't given the materials to compare their progress versus those given the reading materials and guidance.

There are only two sites in Minnesota to be a part of this study, and two sites were chosen in Michigan as well.

"Mahube was the first one chosen because of their reputation in the state," Gail Jordan said.

Jordan, a professor at Bethel University in the Twin Cities, is in charge of the study for Minnesota. She was in Detroit Lakes last week to introduce those helping with the family assessments to the materials.

Those working on the project include Joyce Duffney, Deb Brakefield, Judy White, Heather Syltie, Mary Meyer, Rikki Given and Darcy Hanson.

The three experimental sites include Mahube's Head Start in Frazee, at Mahube in Detroit Lakes and at the M State location in Detroit Lakes. The three controlled sites are in Park Rapids, Audubon and Mahnomen Head Starts.

"Parents of 3-4 year olds get background knowledge and materials to support engagement of literacy at home," she said.

It's an attempt to get them more ready for kindergarten, she added.

Each of the six sessions will have a different focus. Based on the book "Beyond Bedtime Stories," the learning focuses on vocabulary, letter sounds and identification, writing comprehension and print literacy, and each lesson uses a room in the home as a setting to learn.

For example, session one is an overview, but then session two focuses on the living room, and then another on the kitchen, another on the bedroom and bathroom and so on.

Throughout the study, Scholastic provides free children's books to the family.

Not only is the project to help children learn to read and be exposed to more reading, it's also about helping parents change their behavior and spend more time interacting with their children, reading to them, helping to identify letters and helping to comprehend what they're reading or what's being read to them.

"There may be activities they are already doing, but they may increase activity and understand" the quality of it, Jordan said.

The study is specific to younger children because those are the most informative years for a person.

"We do it in the early years so they have the best chance at success," she said.

The children in the three controlled sites, where they won't be getting any guidance or materials, will still be tested on what they know "to factor out normal growth."

If the Scholastic study is successful, the program will be implemented in the future.

"Literacy is such an important (tool) in everyday life," Duffney said.

"Literacy is a gateway tool," Jordan agreed. "The expectation of young learners is higher than it's ever been."

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.