The Correlation Between “United Through Reading” And
For many, when they hear the phrase “Homeland Security” an image of “deployed military fighting for the freedom and protection of the United States” comes to mind. And, indeed, that would be partially correct but the scope of that phrase includes, dramatically, more than what this limited statement suggests. There is another aspect of “Homeland Security” easily overlooked but vitally important to the health, welfare, safety and security of our nation and its future -- the connection between deployed parent and child.
Fact is, when military parents are deployed, the strain and emotional toll impacting the children left behind is enormous. It is a reality that impacts the short and long term evolution and academic performance of these kids as well as the ability for military parents to concentrate on doing their best jobs.
Since "their stumble is our fall", folks, easing the strain absorbed by these military families is in the best interest of all of us. Our collective fate resting on a united front, we too have a responsibility to help these families – not just cope – but flourish despite their separation. It is for this reason that I implore you to familiarize yourself with a wonderful nonprofit called United Through Reading (UTR). A truly smart organization, UTR has figured out a highly clever way to combine the old-fashioned bedtime story, a video camera, and a courier to ensure that the security of deployed military families and our nation remains intact. How they do it? Well, you will just have to read the interview, below, to find out.
Share your name and title ant United Through Reading.
Sally Ann Zoll, Ed.D., “United Through Reading’s” Chief Executive Officer
What is "United Through Reading's" mantra (mission statement)?
Our Mission is to unite military families facing physical separation by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud together. Our vision is that all children will feel the security of caring family relationships and develop a love of reading through the read-aloud experience.
Who founded the program and explain the catalyst behind?
United Through Reading was founded in 1989 by the wife of a Naval flight surgeon who was deployed when their daughter was a baby. When her husband returned, their daughter didn’t recognize him and it took time to rebuild their bond. She was also a reading specialist with a master’s degree in education who continually saw children entering school at a disadvantage because they had little or no exposure at home with the alphabet, new words or books. Through these two experiences a concept emerged. What if she could help parents and children stay connected during separations by enabling them to read together using video recordings? Separated families could sustain family bonds while enjoying the educationally beneficial tradition of reading together. Twenty-seven years later the concept has proven itself again and again. Service members are reading to their children on video from United Through Reading sites around the world.
Briefly explain what "United Through Reading" is all about, including what actually is involved.
United Through Reading offers military service members the opportunity to be video-recorded reading books to the children in their lives while they are away on deployment, training, or active-duty assignment. Ideally, the service member will record a UTR video at recording location near them and then the UTR video and the book are sent home together to the family, at no cost to the service member.
Share some little known facts about the challenges military families face that "United Through Reading" is helping to overcome?
In addition to lengthy separations and multiple deployments over the last 15 years of conflict, military families face many additional and unique challenges. They often face separation due to training and duty assignments, and sometimes because of family circumstances (for example, some family members do not accompany their service member on a tour in order to preserve education continuity and support networks for themselves and their children).
Military families relocate 10 times more often than civilian families, on average, every 2 or 3 years. Since 2001 more than 2 million American children have had a parent deployed at least once and more than 900,000 children have experienced the deployment of one or both of their parents multiple times. In 2015, there were 114,000 parents deployed leaving 224,000 children at home.
United Through Reading tackles the specific challenges which are inherent in family separation. Research from the RAND Corporation’s 2013 study of children from active-duty military families indicates that these children experience higher levels of emotional difficulties during family separations than children in the general population. About one-third of the military children surveyed reported symptoms of anxiety. With United Through Reading families are guaranteed special time with their service member that can be viewed on demand. That connection through the shared read-aloud experience and the ability to see the service member’s face and hear their voice reduces the stress and anxiety that can be caused by separation.
Additionally, military families often face technology challenges in their attempt to stay connected while separated. While new technologies like Skype, face-time, and others are wonderful for military families, they are often unreliable. Due to poor internet connection, insufficient bandwidth, or an inability to sync family schedules with a service member’s schedule during deployment or active-duty assignments, families and their service members are left feeling disappointed and frustrated by attempts to stay connected. With United Through Reading, families are guaranteed special and uninterrupted time with their service member that can be viewed over and over again.
Finally, long separations have been linked to difficulties in children’s social and emotional functioning which affect their ability to learn. An earlier RAND Corporation study found a strong association between children who have endured separations from a parent due to deployment and lower achievement in reading and math. The cumulative time of separation mattered more than the length of each deployment. Further, an alarming study by the US Department of Education in 2000 found that 34 percent of American children entering kindergarten cannot identify letters of the alphabet by name and are not yet at the first level of reading readiness. These troubling reports are counterbalanced by many reputable studies that advocate a simple family response: the single most important activity for building early emergent reading skills is reading aloud to children.
Approximately, how many military families have participated to-date?
Nearly two million mothers, fathers, and children have sustained family bonds and built literacy skills by reading stories together across long distances.
What are the major benefits of "United Through Reading" for families?
When families are United Through Reading during a military separation, like deployment, we know that magical things can happen: services members and children are connected, and bonds are strengthened, even while they are oceans apart; military children’s anxieties around separation fade; spouses and/or caregivers at home feel supported because parenting is shared through the help of UTR video; service members are part of the daily routine at home through a bedtime story shared at night; homecomings begin with children welcoming a familiar parent home, not a stranger; military children learn to love books and reading, which in turns encourages literacy and language skills.
Share some of the titles of the most commonly read, favorite books involved in this program.
Actually, our program is not “one size fits all.” When a service member goes to a United Through Reading site to make a recording, they can choose from a large selection of books. We provide board books for little ones, easy-readers for younger kids, and chapter books for tweens and teens. We also provide classics like Dr. Seuss, books that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math, culturally diverse holiday books, and many more options.
How can 'we' become involved and support you in this program?
To support United Through Reading you can donate on our website or you can sign up to volunteer and get involved by sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
When all is said and done, how does United Through Reading want to be remembered?
At the end of the day, United Through Reading would like to be remembered for connecting military families through the read-aloud experience and instilling a love of literature and reading in military children. We know that there are more than 40 million bedtime stories each year that are missed my military parents. Our goal is that those stories would be saved, recorded and sent home to be read, enjoyed, and cherished by military children worldwide and that United Through Reading would be remembered for saving those bedtime stories for military families all over the world.
Is there anything more comforting than a parent reading a bedtime story to his (her) child moments prior to tucking the little tyke under the covers for the evening? I think not. Now, imagine the impact of providing a similar experience to a child, whose parent has been deployed for months on end? The meaningfulness for this child is obvious but the magnitude for him, her or ourselves…well, that may not show up for years. Why wait to realize the eventual outcome when we have the power to add to our “Homeland Security” strategy so easily, peacefully, and proactively now? The best “defense” is “offense” and “offense” means supporting social, emotional, and educational initiatives like United Through Reading.
Many thanks to Sally Ann Zoll, Ed.D., CEO, United Through Reading for making this interview possible