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PBS KIDS Series Between The Lions Proves Again That TV Can Help Children Learn to Read
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New Research Study Focuses on Improving Literacy in Two Mississippi Communities

Alexandria, VA, October 8, 2002 - In communities where literacy rates are among the lowest in the nation, the PBS KIDS® series BETWEEN THE LIONS has demonstrated that quality TV can make a difference. A major research study has found that children in low-income communities, some of whom speak English as a second language, significantly improved in several key reading skills after regularly watching half-hour episodes of BETWEEN THE LIONS. Students also participated in follow-up activities with their teachers using related children's books and other teaching materials.

The research study, overseen by Cathy Grace, Ed.D., Director of the Early Childhood Institute of Mississippi State University, involved children in Head Start, child care, kindergarten, and first grade in two Mississippi communities where most children are considered at high-risk for reading failure when they begin school: Pearl River on the Choctaw Indian Reservation and Indianola in the Mississippi Delta.

The eight-month study, part of the BETWEEN THE LIONS Mississippi Literacy Initiative, was designed to discover if children in these two communities who were regularly exposed to the television series would be better prepared for learning to read than their peers in control groups. The literacy initiative was carried out by WGBH Boston and Sirius Thinking, Ltd. - producers of the television series - in partnership with Mississippi ETV, the local public television station. The Public Broadcasting Service and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting provided funding for the project through a Ready To Learn grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The study conducted by Mississippi State University is groundbreaking in a number of ways, according to Dr. Grace. There is very little research focusing on literacy among American Indian children of any socioeconomic group. There is also little research data focusing on economically disadvantaged rural preschool children. Further, few studies have looked at literacy programs in child care settings or assessed a literacy initiative used simultaneously among Head Start, child care, kindergarten, and first grade children. The results from this study show that BETWEEN THE LIONS can have a significant positive impact even for children at high-risk for reading failure.

Some key findings:

  • "On the Test of Early Reading Ability (TERA-3), a standardized test that measures reading ability at the earliest stages, there were several positive findings for the children exposed to BETWEEN THE LIONS. For example, all the Choctaw viewers and the Indianola kindergarten viewers significantly outperformed the control groups on the Conventions subtest - which measures what children know about books and other basic concepts of print, such as reading from top to bottom and left to right.
  • "On another measure, the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), at the outset of the project Indianola students in the experimental group scored significantly below the control group on Initial Sound Fluency. By the end of the project, however, students who viewed BETWEEN THE LIONS significantly outperformed their non-viewing peers and were gaining skills at a faster rate. This test, given to preschool and kindergarten children, measures their ability to identify the initial sounds of words, an important precursor for learning to read fluently.

Although the students who participated in the BETWEEN THE LIONS Mississippi Literacy Initiative did not outperform their non-viewing peers on all measures, "the differences found were meaningful," according to the research report. "Based on the results of this study, it appears that the BETWEEN THE LIONS series could be a meaningful part of overall reading interventions."

"We have heard from many educators at both the Choctaw reservation and Indianola that the series is helping their students - and that the children really love it. I believe that BETWEEN THE LIONS has great potential to have a similar impact all over the country," stated Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi).

Jerry Parr, Early Childhood Planner for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, said that BETWEEN THE LIONS has changed his longstanding belief that TV should be prohibited in Head Start and child care classrooms. "Knowing what a book is and what to do with it once it's in your hands, that's called 'conventions' in the study results, and all the children improved in that category. That alone cannot be underestimated," said Parr.

"The entire experience piqued the students' curiosity about reading," noted Dr. Sammi Crigler, Director of Instruction at Indianola Public Schools. "We gained as a district and as a community."

An earlier study on BETWEEN THE LIONS, conducted by Dr. Deborah Linebarger at the University of Kansas before the series premiered in April 2000, also demonstrated that watching the series can significantly improve children's reading skills. In that study, kindergarten students who watched 17 episodes of BETWEEN THE LIONS during a four-week period scored significantly higher than the control group on the ability to match letters with sounds, the awareness that words are made up of sound units (phonemic awareness), and understanding basic concepts of print.

WGBH Boston and Sirius Thinking, Ltd. created BETWEEN THE LIONS specifically to address the low reading scores of children across the country. BETWEEN THE LIONS is the only children's program (of nearly 300 shows on network, cable, and public TV) designed solely to help children learn to read. It is available free and broadcast daily on nearly all PBS stations.

Developed in consultation with the nation's top reading and literacy experts, BETWEEN THE LIONS offers a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to reading instruction. The program is the centerpiece of a multimedia literacy initiative that includes a Web site (, books, videos, parent workshops, teachers' guides, and other outreach materials. The series showcases the power and pleasure of reading and includes segments that foster language development and early literacy skills. Every episode addresses the five key areas of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension.

Mississippi State University, established in 1878 as a land-grant institution, is the largest university in Mississippi. Students are enrolled from every Mississippi county, all 50 states, and more than 80 countries.

PBS, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, is a private, nonprofit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation's 349 public television stations. Serving nearly 100 million people each week, PBS enriches the lives of all Americans through quality programs and education services on noncommercial television, the Internet and other media. More information about PBS is available at, the leading dot-org Web site on the Internet.

WGBH Boston is the source of one-third of all prime-time programs on PBS, and web sites created by WGBH for its national programs account for nearly one-third of the traffic on WGBH has garnered numerous awards, including Emmys, Television Critics awards, and the prestigious Peabody Award, for its educational children's programs such as Arthur, ZOOM, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, and Long Ago & Far Away. Sirius Thinking, Ltd., based in New York, is an educational entertainment company whose principal founders have worked on such notable programs as Sesame Street and The Electric Company.

Mississippi Educational Broadcasting (MEB) operates an eight-station public television network (Mississippi ETV), an eight-station public radio network (Public Radio in Mississippi), and the Radio Reading Services of Mississippi. MEB serves all 82 counties of the state of Mississippi providing quality instructional and public programming. Since its first broadcast in 1970, MEB has won over 350 national awards for its local productions including numerous regional Emmys for instructional programs, and a national Emmy and a Parents' Choice Award for Ticktock Minutes.



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Kevin Dando, PBS

Stephanie Hern‡ndez
WGBH Boston