Snuggling up next to each other on the couch to read a book aloud is one of the special bonding rituals between parents and children—and one that research shows helps make a kid more successful in school. When a parent gets locked up, it brings an abrupt end to sitting on the sofa and turning the pages of The Cat in the Hat together.
But children and incarcerated parents in New York City can still connect and read a book together thanks to TeleStory, a two-year-old program run at a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. The initiative increases childhood literacy by using free live video conferencing to connect children to incarcerated parents at Rikers Island and borough-based Department of Corrections Jails.
“Once that monitor is flipped on, it’s amazing how invisible the technology becomes,” Nick Higgins, the director of outreach services for the Brooklyn Public Library, told TakePart. “The moment that dad pops up on the screen—and I see this in almost every visit—once the families connect, it’s like everything fades away and it’s literally a conversation among family members. And it’s about the child, and about reading books together and singing songs,”
Now Higgins and his team have the opportunity to expand TeleStory to 12 library branches across Brooklyn. On Thursday it was announced that the program is one of 14 winners of the Knight News Challenge on Libraries, and the library will receive nearly $400,000 to support its growth.