Literacy through Culture: A focus on Cool Culture

This is the first post in a new Q&A series here on frizzle highlighting the important work of nonprofit and community organizations whose mission is aligned to ours at Scholastic—to ensure that all children have the opportunity to access and benefit from learning and literacy rich environments.

This week, I had the pleasure to speak with Candice Anderson, Executive Director of Cool Culture.

Q: What is Cool Culture?

A: Cool Culture exists to ensure that New York’s most diverse families with preschool-aged children have access to arts and culture as a way to increase literacy and learning in early childhood and to prepare children to succeed in school. Each year, we improve outcomes for children by: partnering with 90 premiere museums and cultural institutions; working with 400 early childhood programs and public schools; and providing over 50,000 low-income families with free, unlimited access to the city’s museums. Our three impact focus areas include Family Engagement; School Readiness through Community Networks; and Greater Diversity in the Museum Field.

Q: Can you tell me about one your main programs, Literacy through Culture (LTC)?

A: LTC is a partnership in Harlem between six early childhood centers, six cultural institutions, Bank Street College of Education and Cool Culture. Together we engage educators and families with making cultural institutions and visual inquiry (conversations about works of art, culture and nature) a part of their children’s learning experiences—in the classroom, at-home, and in the community. Our  goal is to introduce and connect both museums and NY pre-school programs to families. We do this by focusing on the unique learning opportunities that exist  between the home, school and community resources (like museums and art institutions).

Q: Why are families benefitting from the program?

Families are empowered and enjoy being able to help shape the program. The planning process fosters complementary leadership among families, teachers and museum staff. For example, they recently did a photo project focused on capturing the essence of their neighborhoods. Families and their young children were given cameras and then Studio Museum developed a special neighborhood exhibit, which included their photographs. Families shared reflections such as  “ I didn’t realize my child was so observant”. I didn’t realize my neighborhood was so beautiful.” 

Q: What else have families said about their experience with the program?

We continuously receive very encouraging feedback from all partners including families, teachers and the museum staff. Families have shared: “I learned the way to encourage my children to express their feelings and the way they see things. Teachers: “I always thought visual inquiry was just looking at art, but now I see it as a way to explore your thinking in a new way.” And museum educators: “We’ve achieved a level of familiarity and comfort with parents that is difficult to achieve in most partnerships.”

Q: In addition to some of the great anecdotal feedback, what other kinds of outcomes are you seeing?

A: Program evaluation to ensure that our programs are making a difference is critical.  Through our pre/post evaluations, we’ve been able to see that our programs are helping to support children’s enrichment at home and during out of school time. We are also effectively leveraging exhibits to engage families as learners.  More than 50 % of participating families have said they learned how to support their children’s learning through the arts. And, more than 80% of teachers said they saw an increase in critical thinking among participating children.

Cool Culture: Literacy through Culture Neighborhood Photo Project. Photo: Cool Culture