learn / 2014

Reading Makes a Difference

Reading Makes a Difference

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by The Jester & Pharley Phund

Students at 20 low-income elementary schools will join assemblies & read-a-thons to give uplifting books & dolls to kids in hospitals.


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Students at 20 low-income elementary schools will join assemblies & read-a-thons to give uplifting books & dolls to kids in hospitals.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Through our 6-week project, elementary students in low-income neighborhoods are motivated to read and help others, developing empathy and reading skills. Students join assemblies and a read-a-thon to donate inspiring “Jester Has Lost His Jingle” books and dolls to a local hospital. Participating schools also receive Jester enrichment materials for classrooms. The program springs from grass-roots response to the N.Y. Times best-seller written-illustrated by Yale senior David Saltzman before his death from cancer at 22. During the program’s 13 years, disadvantaged students have read 28 million pages to help ill children in their community. Hospitals receiving Jester books and dolls find them of immense therapeutic value for their patients.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

We open with motivational Introductory Assemblies geared to each grade level, kicking off a 3-week Read-A-Thon. Student reading results in 35 “Jester” books and 35 Jester & Pharley Dolls given to local pediatric patients, with bookplates acknowledging the school and sponsor. The school receives 30 copies of the bilingual English/Spanish “The Jester Has Lost His Jingle/El Bufón ha perdido su gracia” and 30 sets of Jester educator-developed enrichment manuals – Curriculum Guide to ‘The Jester Has Lost His Jingle,’” “Educator’s Guide to ‘The Jester Has Lost His Jingle,’” “The Jester & Pharley PhunBook.” The library receives a Jester & Pharley Doll and “Jester’s Journey” DVD with background material. Creative projects, including care cards & illustrations, also fire up student imaginations. Many student cards and drawings are featured at “Jester & Pharley Place” on our www.thejester.org website. We cap the program 6 weeks later with a Recognition Assembly celebrating top readers & classrooms with special awards. We invite sponsors and hospital representatives to participate.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LEARN today? In 2050?

Literacy will always be the cornerstone of learning – today and in 2050. When children can read, doors open. Illiteracy deprives students of a more lucrative, bright future. We are dedicated to providing children struggling with challenges in disadvantaged neighborhoods with the motivation they need to read. We envision all children – especially minority and low-income children – improving their and others’ lives because of our literacy program. If inspired at an early age to enjoy reading and understand the importance of being a contributing member of society, children will lead more productive and responsible adult lives and make L.A. the best place to learn.
A key objective in teaching low-income children charity is to empower them. Schools praise our program for providing disadvantaged students with a concrete way to GIVE. When students see they can help others simply by reading, they realize they can give of themselves without having to donate money. As we motivate students to give, a love for reading develops. They become empowered learners. Principals report seeing stronger readers and lasting, positive character development that begins with The Jester program. Our project helps children learn as they find joy, meaning and new ideas in books. Our focus consistently draws raves from educators, like this librarian who shepherded our first program: “The most profound impact was in the read-a-thon by which students could give ‘Jester’ books & dolls to children in our local hospital. The level of participation and enthusiasm has been phenomenal. Most of our students are too poor to purchase ‘The Jester’ for themselves, but they care deeply about others. We work very hard to reinforce the importance of caring to our students, so that as they grow older they are tempted less by drugs and violence and more by empathy toward their fellow human beings. Character education requires a way for children to show their character. By offering students the opportunity to actually give something to other children through their own efforts, you enriched their lives immeasurably.” This year, an East L.A. teacher noted that, “Students were more conscious of their choice of words, attitudes and beliefs, of friendship, respect, bullying, negative attitudes and they tried more honestly to be more positive.” Teachers tell us their students want to be “just like The Jester” and live up to The Jester’s motto: “It’s up to us to make a difference. It’s up to us to care.”

Whom will your project benefit?

The Jester & Pharley Phund’s Reading Makes A Difference project, which costs $5,000 per school, provides direct benefits to all students, teachers, staff and administrators at each school. Using an average of 700 students per school, with 30 classrooms per school, 5 administrators and staff per school, the total number of direct beneficiaries at 20 schools can be estimated to be: ● 14,000 students ● 28,000 siblings (an average of 2 per student) ● 21,000 parents (an average of 1.5 per student) ● 600 teachers ● 100 administrators/staff Additionally, student participation in The Jester & Pharley Phund Read-A-Thon will result in 35 copies of “The Jester Has Lost His Jingle/El Bufón ha perdido su gracia” and 35 Jester & Pharley Dolls per school donated to an L.A. County hospital. Benefiting would be: ● 600 young patients receiving “The Jester Has Lost His Jingle/El Bufón ha perdido su gracia” ● 600 young patients receiving The Jester & Pharley Doll Also benefiting would be the siblings and parents of each child receiving the gift. Since many recipients will be from Spanish-speaking households, the parents would be able to share the powerful uplifting messages of the book with their children in their native language. ● 1,200 siblings sharing “The Jester Has Lost His Jingle/El Bufón ha perdido su gracia” ● 1,200 siblings sharing The Jester & Pharley Doll with detachable Pharley Low-income families make up the predominant population of the elementary schools with which we partner (elementary population compiled from California Department of Education data). For many, Spanish is their first language. Students at these schools can encounter serious difficulties in acquiring English-language skills quickly. Literacy is the key to becoming an independent learner in all disciplines and our project facilitates literacy development in a fun and efficacious way. Similarly, disadvantaged children similarly seldom have the opportunity to act as benefactors. The Jester not only encourages students to consider the needs of others but also provides, through the chance to give Jester books and dolls, a means to channel growing compassion into concrete action. And the impact on ill children who receive Jester books and dolls from student participation in our Read-A-Thons is profound. These children often have few, if any, books of their own and urgently need the emotional, educational and therapeutic support The Jester & Pharley book and doll provide.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

During the 13 years that we have been providing this program, we have built strong relationships among numerous educators in many L.A. school districts and among numerous medical professionals in L.A. County hospitals and clinics. Each partner brings a knowledge and understanding of children affected by their profession, enhancing the program. Our educator enrichment manuals were created with these and other collaborators. The many low-income schools that would like their students to participate in this program come from throughout the county. Christopher J. Steinhauser, Superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District, is a key collaborator. He has seen positive results in the 15 district elementary schools in which our project has already been implemented and would like to see it boost literacy in the 39 others. In 2013, Phund Executive Director Barbara Saltzman was presented with the Superintendent’s Distinguished Community Service Award for inspiring Long Beach students to read and care about others through this program. We will continue to work in the Compton Unified School District with Jefferson Elementary Principal Mario Marcos and Afterschool Program Coordinator Rea Young as well as Dr. Abimmbola Ajala, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services. Having successfully brought the program to Jefferson and Carver schools, we have been asked to bring it to more of the district’s 28 elementary schools. Hospital partners include; Dr. Divya-Devi Joshi, Chief Medical Officer, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach; Dr. Ernest Katz, Director of Behavioral Sciences, Children’s Hospital L.A.; Dr. Julie E. Noble, Coordinator of Community Advocacy, Pediatrics Dept. of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center; Cesar Armendariz, Vice President of Business Development, White Memorial Medical Center; Tanya Ybarra, Director of Child Life at California Hospital, and many others.
Three factors critical to the success of our proposed collaboration are: ● Timely administrative support of and encouragement of the program at the school and district level ● Teamwork with a school liaison who will routinely remain in touch with The Phund throughout the program. Regular communication is vital to maintaining the quality and consistency of the program and working through any slight bumps that might occur along the way.
● Hospital desire for Jester books and dolls to benefit patients. “The book is a perfect fit to our literacy program,” reports CHLA & others.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Learn” metrics?

  • Other metrics detailed below:

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

● Grade-level elementary reading performance ● Elementary student literacy ● Non-English speaking student acquisition of English-language skills ● Student character building ● Low-income student community engagement ● Emotional, educational & therapeutic support for hospitalized children Low-income families constitute the predominant population of elementary schools with which we will partner. Students for whom Spanish is their primary language can face serious difficulties acquiring English-language skills as quickly as they should. Literacy is the key to becoming an independent learner in all disciplines. Studies show that children who read in their free time become better learners in all subjects. When children learn to love reading at an early age, reading becomes a lifelong habit, leading to success in later life. Our program gives children a meaningful reason to read. Teachers at Resurrection Catholic School in East L.A. said students wanted to read more and more as a result of our program, funded by USC’s Good Neighbors Campaign. Some 48 of 231 students raised their grade-level reading. A pre-K teacher said more parents began reading more to their young children, a key to developing reading proficiency. A 4th-grade teacher said students “increased their level of fluency, comprehension and have been reading on their own,” with many now first beginning to read chapter books. Standardized test scores at schools in our program usually go up, some as much as 54 and 79 points. With Common Core, teachers find our three educator manuals of special value in helping students analyze, write and create. Disadvantaged children often have little opportunity to become charitable in a meaningful way. It is vital that they become engaged in their community and develop compassion from an early age. Our program successfully addresses both issues. In addition, ill children in the same neighborhood need the joyful support The Jester & Pharley bring. Says a Stanford medical professor: “Mirthful laughter is an instant mood changer that can erase fear, anger, anxiety and depression.” Reports the mom of a child with cancer: “The Jester came to us in our time of need, and we learned to find our laughter in a time when tears were so easily shed. When we read this book, we always end up on the floor laughing uncontrollably – out of breath – usually crying tears of joy. Laughter is the best medicine. We know that it has helped us and so many others.”

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

We will evaluate our project both quantitatively and qualitatively with the following metrics:

  1. We will measure increased student interest in reading with: ● Jester & Pharley Phund daily reading logs ■ Students will list the number of book titles & pages read during the read-a-thon ● A questionnaire for the principal and all teachers will ask them to analyze pre- and post-program interest in free-time student reading and will gauge ■ Grade level of books chosen ■ Increase in grade-level reading ■ Increased interest (time spent) in free reading
  2. We will measure increased student compassion for ill children by: ● Counting the number of care cards voluntarily created by students for ill children ● A pre- and post-program survey of teachers/principal evaluating student empathy, including instances of bullying & kindness
  3. We will determine how valuable our additional resources are for teachers with a questionnaire evaluating ● Usefulness of Jester bilingual book ● Usefulness of each resource manual ● Long-term use of materials
  4. We will use a teacher/administrative questionnaire to gauge how effectively our program complements the Core Curriculum by ● How the materials and program relate to Core goals ● How our materials can help teachers meet specific guidelines
  5. We will use a teacher/administrative questionnaire for evaluation of ● Jester assemblies (both presentation and content) ● The complete Jester program
  6. We will evaluate published state/district test results of each participating school when made available following our program
  7. We will provide a questionnaire for child-life specialists to evaluate Jester materials in terms of ● Patient and family response ● Child-life, social workers, medical team response and analysis of Jester books and dolls’ assistance in helping patients find a positive way of coping with their illness/injury ● Future requests for “The Jester Has Lost His Jingle/El Bufón ha perdido su gracia” and Jester & Pharley Dolls for patients
  8. We will catalog the number of Jester greeting cards sent by patients/family members evaluating the book and doll’s value

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Seemingly unrelated medical and educational experiences have come together to inform our Reading Makes A Difference project. The heart of our project stems from author-artist David Saltzman’s ability to personally inspire children (and adults) of all ages. When David underwent an excruciating bone marrow transplant at UCLA Medical Center in 1989, he had an opportunity to interact with two 7-year-olds being treated for cancer. David told them the story of “The Jester Has Lost His Jingle” and wouldn’t let the boys leave until they were laughing. To keep them smiling, he took out his drawing pad and drew a special Jester & Pharley for each. That morning – six months before David’s death – his mother realized that her son’s book would help all children coping with cancer and other serious medical and life challenges. She vowed to find a way to give “The Jester” to them.

In 1999, the Saltzmans, who had mortgaged their home to publish David’s book, received a check for $139.78 from Elmhurst Elementary School in Portsmouth, RI. Students wanted to give “The Jester” to children who were sick. They decided to hold a weeklong read-a-thon for a penny a page to raise money to give “The Jester” to local hospital patients. They read 13,978 pages – a total Barbara Saltzman thought remarkable. “Your book has touched us all and sparked many a discussion about family illnesses, children who are sick, and especially about appreciating the joy and beauty in the world around us,” wrote Reading Specialist Denise Dvorak. “The students at Elmhurst are richer for having shared ‘The Jester’s’ story.” Before the Internet, an art instructor at rural Chadbourn Elementary School in Chadbourn, NC, asked if the school could “adopt” David. “Four years ago I started our Adopt-A-Star program in which my students and I adopt nationally known artists. We study his/her artwork, do a lesson pertaining to his/her style or subject matter and communicate with them by letter, video or email.” The school had never adopted anyone who had died. But they found David’s story so compelling that they made an exception. The other author they adopted that year was Maya Angelou. Barbara sent unpublished material to the school about David and asked to be sent all the teachers’ lesson plans in return. The school, in turn, asked her to share them with other teachers. Essentially, the Reading Makes A Difference program developed from these grass-roots efforts.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

We have had more than 13 years of experience implementing this project in 150 elementary schools in Southern California, an average of 11 per year. Our experience tells us that we could readily bring the Reading Makes A Difference program to at least one low-income school a week, or 52 schools per year. The only thing limiting our bringing it to additional schools is sufficient funding.

With $100,000 in place from an LA2050 Grants Challenge, it would be entirely feasible to bring the program to 20 additional schools in Los Angeles County in the 2014-2015 school year. We only schedule schools requesting our program when the program is fully funded. With $100,000 in funding, we would immediately contact and schedule 20 more Los Angeles County low-income schools for this program.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Working with school schedules remains our biggest challenge. Low-achieving public schools face many pressures from districts, state government and parents as they cope with the introduction of the Common Core curriculum. They need to understand that when they take on the Reading Makes A Difference program they partner with a collaborator who will help them make learning much more meaningful for students, exciting children about reading and caring about others at the same time. They need to understand that the sooner they schedule the program, the more rapidly their students will find joy, meaning and new ideas in books that will have lifetime value. Student immersion in reading to help others will pay dividends on many levels, both in the personal lives of students and in the community at large.

Our second major challenge also relates to scheduling. Schools benefit most from our program when it can be implemented early in the school year, before the school calendar becomes overcrowded. If schools try to fit us in during the spring semester – when testing and preparation for testing take up significant time – the time crunch can become problematic.

Our strategy to ensure a successful implementation is to schedule assemblies early in the year as soon as we receive funding. By immediately contacting schools requesting the program, we make it possible for them to get the program on their calendar. Schools that have tried to work the program in toward the close of the school year all report that earlier implementation would have given them much more time to work with our materials and increased its success even more.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)