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Adapted Lions to be tested on kids coming to English

Originally published in Current, Feb. 23, 2004
By Karen Everhart

In two recently funded research projects, WGBH and Sirius Thinking will test how effectively Between the Lions can break through cultural and language barriers and improve early reading skills among Native American and Spanish-speaking children.

The producing partners won federal funds to adapt and test the series in two experiments — the American Indian Head Start Literacy Initiative and a project targeting Spanish-speaking children who are learning English.

American Indian children: WGBH secured $745,000 in federal aid for the American Indian initiative with KNME in Albuquerque, N.M. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) championed the project to aid literacy among Pueblo, Navajo and Apache children in his home state. The federal monies were allocated as "funds for the improvement of education" in the U.S. Department of Education budget, according to WGBH.

WGBH and KNME will work with educational specialists from 14 tribes to adapt existing Between the Lions shows, create new print materials and train Head Start teachers to use them in the classroom. The project will evaluate how effectively the curriculum improves early reading skills of American Indian children.

The project grew out of the Between the Lions Mississippi Literacy Initiative in 2001-02, which found that classroom uses of the TV series boosted early literacy skills for preschool children in a Choctaw Indian Reservation.

"From our work in Mississippi we saw that the Indian population is terribly at risk of reading failure, due to income and cultural factors such as not speaking English as a first language," said Brigid Sullivan, WGBH v.p. of children's, educational, and interactive programming. Mississippi research determined that adapting the series for the target population would boost its effectiveness. Participating Head Start programs will start using the series in the fall.

Spanish-speaking kids: Sirius Thinking is leading the other research project, which is backed by the National Institutes of Health. Producers have already customized and tested a Lions episode with Spanish-speaking children who have limited English skills. The revised program — which introduced a bilingual character, Sierra — was more appealing and comprehensible to children, according to Christopher Cerf, co-creator and series producer. "The results were really excellent," he said.

Based on project findings, the federal National Institute for Child Health and Human Development recently awarded a second-phase grant to expand the project, bringing its total support to $850,000. Sirius will adapt six more episodes and measure whether they help kids' reading.

"What we're trying to do is keep the focus of the show on developing English-reading skills," said Daniel Shanahan, director of research at Sirius and a specialist in language learning. "These are the skills that kids really need to have to succeed academically."

Revised shows keep the Lions stories in English but add the character Sierra, who describes in Spanish what will happen, interrupts the story to explain it, or summarizes it at the end. Shanahan and his team will see whether children who watch the new version read better than those who watch the regular series. Sirius hopes public TV stations and possibly Spanish-language stations will broadcast the adapted series.

Web page posted Feb. 22, 2004
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Copyright 2004


After working with the program's producers on an educational research project, Mississippi Public Broadcasting began talks that may lead to a co-production role in the series, 2004.

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