Words Travel™ is the first national literacy and family strengthening program for incarcerated parents and their children. The venture is a partnership between Scholastic and Volunteers of America, one of the nation's largest human service organizations. The mission of the program is to connect incarcerated parents with their children through reading books. Words Travel is currently being piloted at 5 prison facilities nationwide with plans for expansion in 2006.
Through the six-week Words Travel program, incarcerated parents---both men and women---participate in a series of classes to gain familiarity with the different genres of children's literature and how they can play a key role in supporting their child's reading development, even while serving time. The program is centered around Reading Starts With Us, a family literacy program that teaches parents how to engage in conversational reading with children.
Incarcerated parents enrolled in the program read and record books on tape for their children. The books and tapes are sent to the children or given to them during visits to the correctional facility. Children participating in the Words Travel program receive a special book bag, personal tape player and other supplies to use. The children are able to listen to their parent's voice and read along as often as they like. Scholastic provides financial grants to support the initiative and donates the books and recording equipment, while the program is administered through Volunteers of America.
According to the United States Department of Justice, an estimated 721,500 State and Federal prisoners were parents to 1,498,800 children under the age of 18. A majority of these parents (57% of fathers and 54% of mothers surveyed) reported never having a personal visit with their children since admission. The ongoing parent-child contact fostered by Words Travel helps bring families together during a disruptive and chaotic time in a child's life. In essence, Words Travel seeks to empower incarcerated parents by creating a positive experience for both parents and children and facilitating a desire for children to read and develop early literacy skills.
Scholastic and Volunteers of America
Since 1999, Volunteers of America has participated as a national partner in the Scholastic Book Grants program, distributing over 1,833,000 books throughout 27 states. Specifically, Volunteers of America local offices partnered with several correctional facilities to distribute new Scholastic books to children visiting their incarcerated parents. The books were given out during the children's visits so that the parent could spend quality time with their children.
"Words Travel continues Scholastic's mission of putting books into the hands of all children, particularly those who don't have regular access to books," explains Karen Proctor, Vice President, Community Relations, Scholastic. "Through this extraordinary program, we hope to help incarcerated parents help their children by supporting their reading development. We are thrilled to partner with Volunteers of America on this groundbreaking initiative that is making a difference in the lives of children and families at such a critical time."
While family visits offer the most promising opportunity for parents and children to work through layers of emotional issues, reading together provides an occasion to re-establish and rebuild family ties. "The parents involved in Words Travel have a strong desire for their children to do well in school and to grow into successful adults," says Margaret Ratcliff, Vice President, Research and Development, Volunteers of America. "As parents read each book aloud on tape, they also impart their own wisdom and encouragement to their children. That is why the children play the tapes over and over."
For more information regarding Words Travel contact:
Scholastic Community Affairs
New York, NY 10012
Volunteers of America
1660 Duke Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22314