WGBY with many other key community stakeholders have worked closely over the years in different capacities to align efforts with The Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation’s Reading Success by 4th Grade a community-wide initiative with the goal that ALL of Springfield’s children will read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade. One specific project that WGBY has co-led is the 413Families community-based texting program for families with young children offers information about educational tips and fun things to do – most of it FREE. With the goal of sending 2-3 texts per week, organizations submit messages that inform and engage families about local events, asking parents to submit photos or respond to giveaway opportunities.
Our texting discovery began during our participation in the first RTL transmedia demonstration cohort back in 2012. We were working closely with families in a predominately Latino community whose WGBY’s viewership was mainly children watching PBS Kids, so we knew that creating spots was not the best way to communicate. While my team did have some success doing door-to-door outreach distributing bilingual flyers, it was time consuming so we began to distribute surveys after each activity to collect data and contact information. One thing we noticed was many didn’t provide email addresses, and although we didn’t have a strategy for reconnecting with families at that time, we realized that was a missed opportunity and began having internal discussions.
As we continued collecting surveys, what we did notice was that many didn’t have technology or WiFi access at home. However, many had cellphones so we updated our surveys to ask individuals if we could contact them through text, even though we didn’t have a plan. After about a year of collecting data and once we realized they were interested in staying connected through text, we began to brainstorm. The only FREE option where we could send multiple text messages using an online platform we found at that time was on Google Apps. So we decided to explore the Google Voice text feature as a pilot and noticed that families were actually responding and attending events. While this was a tedious task with various limitations, we learned a lot and began to have conversations about other ways to communicate. Again, although we made spots on air, not having them available in Spanish limited our outreach. (Currently we provide a lot more bilingual resources and contact on-air, including production of a local bilingual show, Presencia.)
In late 2014, during one of our meetings with the Reading Success by 4th Grade team, I approached the Davis Foundation, and Reading by 4th Grade Coordinator about noticing the gap of communication that exist, what we have tried and ask if they would be interested in exploring a larger project. We spent about a year meeting, researching and convening key partners. In January 2016 with the funding support of the foundation and input from other organizations, we launched the 413Families Text Campaign offering either English or Spanish text messages.