September 22, 2017

Literacy Effort Targets Native Americans

By Walter Minkel

NM hopes ‘Between the Lions’ will help raise test scores of Native American children

Native American children in central and northern New Mexico will soon tune in to custom-made programs of the PBS kids’ show Between the Lions. They’ll see the same puppetry, animation, and live action that so many four- to seven-year-olds have grown to love – except the 15-minute segments will specifically focus on the literacy needs of kids in the indigenous Pueblo, Apache, and Navajo populations.

Paid for by a $750,000 federal grant, the programming is meant to bring the standardized test scores of American Indian children up to par with other kids in the state, says Carmen Lieurance, director of Taos Pueblo Head Start, which has been collaborating with the show’s producers at WGBH in Boston and local public television station KNME-TV to bring the programming to kids in September.

The broadcasts will reinforce the literacy curriculum in schools and introduce phonics instruction for at-risk preschoolers in local Head Start programs. The show’s main characters, Lionel and Leona, are joined by a cast that includes Martha Reader and the Vowelles, a Motown – style vocal group whose repertoire is comprised exclusively of vowels.

The show’s producers will work with tribal education groups to create culturally appropriate support materials, and similar tools will be created later this year for other Pueblo groups, as well as the Mescalero Apache and the Eastern Navajo.

Recent studies by the Early Childhood Institute of Mississippi State University discovered that Between the Lions helped at-risk children in local African-American and Choctaw Indian communities achieve higher reading scores. The hope is that this program, funded by an American Indian Head Start Literacy Initiative grant, will do the same for New Mexico’s American Indian kids.