Igniting Racial Equity in Allegheny County’s Literacy Ecosystem

New training will help organizations support children’s emerging literacy—and their own emerging understanding of racial bias—through picture books

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences a part of the larger human experience…”

– Rudine Sims Bishop, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors

We, the 3Rs team, love children’s picture books. We think they offer rich experiences for children to develop literacy skills while bonding with the adults in their lives. That being said, we note the reality that not all children get to see themselves represented in picture books. Even with access to such books, adults might also need support in using these books in ways that honor and affirm children’s identities. Our 3Rs team is focused on strengthening adults’ awareness of all the ways that racial biases permeate children’s literacy development, and we use racially affirming picture books to help foster this awareness.

Why 3Rs? 3Rs stands for “Reading, Racial Equity, and Relationships.” We are the early school-age cohort of The Pittsburgh Study, a community-partnered longitudinal study taking place right here in Allegheny County, which looks at what makes children thrive from prenatal stages through adolescence. As the early school-age cohort, we know reading is a gateway experience, not only academically, but emotionally and existentially, too. Thus, we are focused on facilitating positive and racially affirming reading experiences for all children in Allegheny County.

Funded through a Remake Learning Ignite Grant, this (now virtual) training is offering racial equity training to ten representatives from local literacy organizations in Allegheny County. The training is led by Dr. Aisha White, director of the P.R.I.D.E. program (Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education) at the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development. Participants will meet once a month and each will be provided with ten racially affirming picture books selected by Dr. White. These books will be used throughout the training, culminating with participants creating a “final project” that could be used in children’s literacy programming.

Here’s a little about what we expect in the training:

  • September 2020 was our first session. In addition to a meet-and-greet, participants read two articles about the “30 million word gap” and talked about the implications of this widely-cited, yet problematic study on children and families of color. It was an opportunity for participants to discuss deficit-framing and the ways white supremacy surfaces in children’s literacy development.
  • October 2020 will be our first session with Dr. White, and we are grateful to have her lead participants through this work. In Dr. White’s own words: “All of us have personal histories and memories related to living and growing up in a highly racialized society. Those life accounts have to do with, among other things, a) what we have experienced, b) what we have learned, and c) how we feel about race. In this session, we will uncover and explore those experiences through dialogue and activities that help us to recall and reflect on the ways life has impacted our current racial beliefs and understandings.”
  • November 2020 will explore the history of race and racism in America and how this relates to literacy specifically in both a historical and current context.
  • December 2020 will explore how children learn about race and become racially aware.
  • January 2021 will provide an opportunity for participants to think through how they can apply what they have learned in the training in their organization by designing a project or learning lesson that could be done with children using one of the picture books they received in the training.
  • February 2021 will be a follow-up debriefing session with participants to talk about their experience in the training and next steps.

We are grateful for Remake Learning and the opportunity to offer this training with the P.R.I.D.E. team to key leaders in our local organizations. We look forward to checking back in after the training to let you all know how it went and what we learned.

For now, check out some of the books used to facilitate this training:

Book List: