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Family Engagement, Community Collaboration

Today we’re sharing a post from our friends in literacy who used a multifaceted approach to understand the need in their community and delivered a meaningful program to support young readers and engage parents so they were ready for Kindergarten. This back-to-school season, we’re pleased to share about their model and you can learn more about RIF’s own reading engagement campaign that just launched along with return to school: Rally to Read 100! Learn more today at

James Pond, president of Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation (GELF), knows that to make big things happen, you can’t do it alone. So when a global pandemic hit, his team at GELF put together a powerful collaboration with the Tennessee Department of Education, 112 school districts, and Ready4K to give caregivers the support they needed to increase at-home learning.

This is the story of how in just six months, three organizations with a clear focus and an unwavering commitment to early literacy, worked together to implement a statewide family engagement program.

Understanding the Community Need
Since 2004, GELF has been providing access to books for Tennessee children ages birth to five. Through continuous relationship building, they have reached families across all 95 counties with their Birth-5 Book Delivery program.

As a trusted literacy partner, GELF determined it was time to evolve their work by equipping students and families with quality tools through 3rd grade. And as they readied themselves for growth, GELF also set out on a listening tour. Through this, they heard what families needed:

  1. Quality literacy resources
  2. More caregiver support

Book distribution was already a strength of GELF. Now they set out to find strategies for providing a Caregiver Engagement program.

“We decided that to provide as much support as possible, the caregiver engagement tool would be vital,” says Paige Atchley Shapiro, GELF Senior Program Manager.

Finding the Right Engagement
The challenge was to find a caregiver engagement solution that would meet the moment. “We knew caregiver support was something we had to pursue, that there was more learning to be done, and more we didn’t know,” says Pond.

In 2020, Shapiro set out to research virtual family engagement programs that could achieve their goal. After a summer pilot with another program didn’t deliver the results they were looking for, Shapiro heard Dr. Benjamin York, founder of Ready4K, speak during a virtual webinar and decided this was the program they needed.

GELF’s experience with the earlier program, which required internet access and more proactive enrollment, informed their decision. They saw Ready4K as offering the greatest accessibility.

Enrollment Begins
Soon after the GELF team reached out to Ready4K, both teams put their heads together to explore the best way to serve as many families as possible, as quickly as possible. GELF was also in the process of contracting with 75 school districts to provide their K-3 Book Delivery program to students.

They included the necessary contract language that enabled each district to seamlessly offer Ready4K to their families. Districts were not required to offer Ready4K; however, because of its curricular alignment and ease of implementation, almost every district chose to enroll families directly.

At the same time, GELF brought in the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) as a partner to align the Ready4K content with the Tennessee English Language Arts standards and expand outreach to school districts.

The potential number of families served rapidly began to grow. “The TDOE was pivotal in getting the word out,” says Shapiro. “They shared information widely, and school districts were interested immediately. We fielded requests from our most rural to most urban districts.”

Expanding to Meet Demand
GELF, the TDOE, and Ready4K were all committed to ensuring as many districts as possible were able to participate. The stretch-goal of reaching 75,000 families was quickly eclipsed and revised.

The program officially launched on January 11, 2021 by sending welcome messages to over 140,000 families across the state.

“When we launched, Ready4K gave us an estimate of the number of opt-outs and non-working numbers. But it was not even close! We’ve all miscalculated how desperately families really wanted something like this,” says Pond. “It’s been a positive response. It’s been a fantastic journey. We had no idea it would be this big.”

To date, more than 163,000 families are receiving text messages, and the number is still growing.

“As a first-time parent, these helpful hints have been great for getting me thinking about how to help my child develop while having fun with him in the process,” says a Tennessee parent.


Looking Forward
For the GELF team, getting families engaged was an important first step. Now they’ve turned their attention to the future.

“I feel a weight and an obligation to make a difference in the next several years. I’m looking for the programs and partnerships that are going to move the needle,” said Pond. “If it doesn’t make a difference, it’s not a have-to-do. What are those have-to-dos? Ready4K seems like one of those things that’s really going to make a difference.”

For more information on GELF and their work, visit
To learn more about Ready4K, visit