An Interview with Dr. Huilan Krenn: About the Kellogg Foundation

Oct 5, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1) First of all, what is your exact title and what would you say you do at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation?

I’m a program officer on the education and learning team at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. I oversee investments in organizations that focus on making sure kids come to school prepared and ready to learn, and I work with many organizations that promote strong literacy skills because reading is one of the key factors in helping to make sure kids are ready for school and achieve early school success. For years, I have studied the essential nature of the bond between parent and child, and so I am focused on making grants to organizations that encourage parents to use that bond to foster in their children the love of reading and lifelong learning.

2) I am familiar with the Kellogg Foundation and its great work, but could you tell our readers a bit more about what you do?

Everyone at the Kellogg Foundation is passionate about improving the lives and future possibilities for America’s most vulnerable children. We focus on particular communities where children and families are most in need of high-quality early intervention to achieve success by third grade so that they are set up for ongoing success through high school, college and careers. We also invest in national organizations and their networks to extend what is working for more children.

3) I recently sent one of my grad students to a Kellogg Foundation training—what does your training consist of?

The Kellogg Foundation does not provide external trainings.

4) Now, I understand you are working with the Raising A Reader program. How did this come about?

I am so glad you’re talking about the Raising A Reader program because it is such a terrific example of getting children core skills while cementing the parent-child bond. Working with 110,000 preschool children at nearly 2,500 locations across the country, Raising A Reader delivers bright red bags filled with age-sensitive books into children’s homes every week, exposing each child to approximately 100 books per year. Parents and caregivers are trained to engage their children and stimulate their learning through “book cuddling.” Families are also connected to their local public library to continue the practice of borrowing books and family book sharing.

Raising A Reader is a proven early literacy program. We’ve learned from research we’ve funded that this type of program has the potential to close the achievement gaps between low-income, minority children and their white peers. We also know that quality interactions between a child and the parent provide a solid foundation for the child’s emotional and social development. Raising A Reader combines both beautifully. Our grant support will strengthen the organization’s capacity to serve more children; particularly young children in communities of color where there is inequitable access to information and high-quality resources. We learned about Raising A Reader while funding a study of early childhood programs in Texas and felt it was a great fit with the Foundation’s priorities. The study’s preliminary findings showed Raising A Reader’s strong potential, when coupled with Texas’ Parent Night program, in closing achievement gaps between low-income Latino children and their white peers.

5) What are you trying to accomplish?

We want to create a family bonding experience that helps children 0-5 develop the cognitive, language and social skills needed for literacy while also helping parents strengthen their role in preparing their child for school success. The outcomes we strive to accomplish are twofold: 1) building the capacity of Raising A Reader as a national organization to better serve vulnerable children and serve more children in general; and 2) ensuring children are ready for kindergarten by promoting a holistic, whole child development approach and equipping children with a solid literacy base as well as other readiness factors.

6) Obviously we want to encourage reading in ALL cultures, ALL races, ALL ethnicities, ALL socioeconomic groups, BUT that is easier said than done. What are you going to attempt with the Raising A Reader program?

A decade of research has shown that the parent/child interaction that occurs throughout the program results in children developing a love for reading before they arrive at kindergarten, and promotes successful family reading habits that help children—especially vulnerable children from underserved communities—transition into school. Raising A Reader is using our funds to build their own staff’s capacity in cultural competence and strengthen the program’s design, content and delivery so that it remains culturally relevant and respectful while honoring the different cultures of children the program serves.

For example, the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Santa Cruz County, Calif., has served more than 6,000 children, including migrant families who don’t often have the resources to support their children’s early literacy development. Raising A Reader 5-year-olds in Head Start in San Francisco County scored 69 percent higher in pre-reading and 59 percent higher in book knowledge than other Head Start children. And the program resulted in a 350 percent increase in the percentage of Spanish-speaking parents taking their preschool children to the library at least once a month in Santa Clara County.

7) Many of these kids nowadays are running around with iPads and iPods and Kindles and Kandles. Are you going to be fostering the good old-fashioned hardback or paperback books?

Our focus is not so much on the debate surrounding old-fashioned hardback or paperback books vs. digitalized reading; our primary reason for supporting Raising A Reader is to foster parent-child bonding through “book cuddling.” The weekly book bag delivery system is turnkey—a simple, sustainable routine that is easily managed in a number of diverse settings. The Raising A Reader program is managed locally by a diverse set of community agencies and, with an average cost of $35 annually per child throughout a five-year period, is one of the most cost-effective of its kind. We feel it offers an evidence-based, affordable, scalable and engaging model through which families can develop, practice and sustain the habit of sharing books.

8) What about the parents—are you going to get them involved at all?

Yes, of course. Deep parental involvement is central to the success of this program. After all, when the books arrive in children’s homes, parents are the ones who cuddle with their children with books in hand.

9) How will you assess the outcome or effectiveness of the program?

The organization has a rigorous evaluation system, and we will monitor the grant through its evaluation processes, activities and outcomes. Over the 12 years of its existence, Raising A Reader has steadily extended its reach, serving more young children in more and more communities across the country. It has a proven track record of success in boosting the involvement of parents in their child’s literacy development and in providing children with the pre-literacy skills they need to become successful, lifelong readers. We will assess the effectiveness of our investment based on continued evidence of progress in these critical areas.

10) What have I neglected to ask?

Creating literacy-rich homes is only one of the endeavors we support. We also support programs that implement a comprehensive, integrated approach to early learning, focusing on the whole child development. For example, we fund a program called AVANCE that targets Latino children 0-3 and focuses on supporting early childhood and brain development, as well as educational programs for parents and families because data shows that as parents improve their lives, their kids excel.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.