United Through Reading commits to update the organizations proven model of helping military families connect by developing an app that will replicate UTRs model in partnership with Kindoma, First Book, and Too Small to Fail. This commitment leverages emerging technologies in order to more efficiently expand access to UTRs unique and important support for more service members across the globe, including expanding access to locations in which UTR does not have a physical presence.
Key features will include the ability to pre-record book readings with video synchronized to page view; the ability to point to things on the page which will show up on the other screen as well; and the ability to capture the childs reaction to reading together. Additionally, the UTR app will support a thank you video to be sent to readers and when a live connection is possible participants will be able to read books together over video chat with the same page of the book appearing on each users screen.
Integrated into the App will be tools for gathering non-PII metrics such as number of postings and number of viewings. The app will also include tools for administering participant surveys at various points during the commitment in order to capture data on the UTR programs impact on service members and their loved ones.
United Through Reading is a public benefit organization dedicated to uniting U.S. military families who face physical separation by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud together. UTR will lead program management, implementation, and distribution.
Kindoma is a technology startup that reimagines video calling specifically for kids. With roots at Sesame Workshop, their team has created a Parents Choice Gold award-winning App that allows families to read together over video calls, both synchronously and asynchronously. It will be responsible for technology development and management.
First Book is a global social enterprise whose mission is to ensure educational equity through the distribution of brand new books and other resources that prepare children in need for a life and love of reading and learning. First Book will be responsible for content (books), including the curation of a key selection of appropriate content and obtaining rights to both the digital and physical versions of content.
Too Small to Fail (TSTF) is a joint initiative of the Clinton Foundation and the Opportunity Institute that is leading a public awareness and action campaign to promote the importance of early brain and language development and to empower parents with tools to talk, read, and sing with their young children from birth. TSTF will be responsible for contributing parent-directed messaging and tips related to talking, reading and singing with young children and the benefits of sharing language-rich activities together.
Q1 will focus on curating the book selection and developing the app. First Book will work with its publishing partners to create and curate a book collection resulting in distribution rights for PDF versions of all books in the collection. Simultaneously, Kindoma will be creating an iOS app including design, development, and publishing.
Q2 will involve pilot rollout and initial impact assessment. UTR will lead the pilot rollout of the app to a select group of military families and then evaluate pilot outcomes through the use of usability feedback and impact surveys. The outcomes to be evaluated include: service members stress during deployment, home families feelings of connections with deployed service members, childs anxiety about the deployment, the childs interest in reading and books, and the childs literacy development.
In Q3, Kindoma will manage full release of the iOS version of the UTR app and port the app to Android mirroring the development, QA testing, and publishing process for the iOS version. UTR will work through established program delivery channels such as military units and the USO to promote the app. As part of the awareness campaign, publications from Too Small To Fail will be distributed to help parents in the program identify specific actions, consistent with the new research, that they can take within the app to help their children fully benefit from the UTR program.
Q4 will entail piloting the Android app and ongoing assessment. UTR will lead the pilot rollout of the Android version of the app to a select group of military families and then evaluate pilot outcomes in a manner identical to the iOS pilot. The same parameters will be used to evaluate application usability and impact. This will provide the foundation for the program to continue running on both Android and iOS devices into the future with updates provided as needed.
The Department of Defenses Defense Manpower Data Center estimates that more than 114,000 service members were separated from their families in 2015 due to service related obligations, affecting approximately 224,000 children.
Military families especially the children are considered to be at-risk because frequent moves and separations bring instability to family life. Research indicates that children from active duty military families experience significantly higher levels of emotional difficulties during family separations than children in the general population. About one third of the military children surveyed reported symptoms of anxiety. Longer deployments were linked to greater difficulties in children's social and emotional functioning. Moreover, a recent study by the RAND Corporation found an association between
children who have endured long separations from a parent due to military deployment and lower achievement in reading and math.
For more than 25 years, United Through Reading (UTR) has been connecting U.S. military families across all branches of service who face physical separation by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud together. The organization has served almost two million beneficiaries since its founding. In 2015, United Through Reading was recognized by the Library of Congress for its contribution to literacy in the military community, and in 2016 was the inaugural recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor Societys Community Service Hero Award.
As demonstrated through the organizations surveys, UTRs program has been shown to improve both social-emotional and learning outcomes for children and families separated by distance due to military service. Indeed, 90% of responding service members report that participation reduced stress during deployment; 88% of respondents at home reported feeling more connected with deployed service members; 81% reported a decrease in their childs anxiety about the deployment; and 78% reported an increase in their childs interest in reading and books.
Although the need remains unchanged, the context in which UTRs program operates has changed drastically. The technology landscape around video delivery has been radically disrupted in the past five years; this provides both challenges and opportunities to United Through Readings delivery method. In the current model, the remote service member and child at home share readings and reactions via video recordings delivered on DVDs. However, DVD player penetration is on the decline. Mobile devices now provide the opportunity to reach more constituents at a lower cost.
In 2015, UTR was awarded technology development grants from both NBC and the City of San Diego directed toward the development of a web-based program delivery platform. These opportunities have helped pave the way for new partnerships and next steps to bring UTR to additional military families through mobile technology.