The Pittsburgh Study: Early School-Age Cohort


As part of the Pittsburgh Study, a community-driven intervention study to enhance youth thriving, The Early School Age Cohort has developed a new literacy initiative focused on reading, racial equity, and relationships for kindergarten - 3rd grade students in Allegheny County. The Early School Age Cohort’s 3Rs Initiative is one of six cohorts within the Pittsburgh Study that are supported by three cross-cutting committees.

The 3Rs Initiative uses a 4-strand approach to support the entire early literacy ecosystem by working with families, classroom teachers, community organizations, and local leaders. A foundational tenet of the 3Rs is that high-quality literacy experiences are inextricably linked to living in an equitable society and having strong relationships between children, adults, and organizations.


How We Engage with Adults

The 3Rs team believes that enhancing children’s literacy experiences begins with partnering with adults. We have two main strategies for creating meaningful opportunities for adults to develop their knowledge and practices around reading, racial equity, and relationships.

1) Picture Books

High-quality, racially-affirming picture books are powerful tools for engaging adults in learning about each of the 3Rs, for grappling with how they might use these books with children, and for opening up conversations about race. The 3Rs team carefully selects picture books that are used with our Scientific Committee and across all four of our strands and are donated throughout the community.

2) Communities of Practice

Helping to build an equitable Allegheny County, filled with strong relationships and enriching early literacy experiences is going to take committed adults who develop a lifelong practice of learning and taking action together. In every aspect of the 3Rs, we are working to create communities of practice, where adults come together around their commitment to the 3Rs and to engage in ongoing learning. We aim for each of these communities to become a liberated space where all voices are welcome, valued, and we are able to push each other to grow while staying in relationship with one another.

One community of practice that is at the center of the 3Rs is our Scientific Committee. It is made up of all of the 3Rs staff, up to 15 Community Champions that have shown exceptional commitment to helping children thrive in Allegheny County, and a member of the larger Pittsburgh Study. Our Scientific Committee drives the work of the entire 3Rs Initiative and meets monthly to co-create every step of this journey.

How We Learn from Our Practice

As we develop the 3Rs initiative and bring it into the Allegheny County literacy ecosystem, our goal is to study every step of our process so we can continue learning, refining, and improving our efforts each year. Each of our four strands has their own goals to bring all three Rs to the forefront in their areas, and across all of the strands we are also working to understand the synergies that lead to county-wide change. Our first main research effort has been to work with community members to define our vision for a county that centers racial equity and relationships in its literacy ecosystem. We affectionately call this “being more 3Rs ish” and spent two years co-developing this 3Rs definition below. Currently, we are creating a measure so we can assess how adult’s develop more 3Rs ish beliefs over time.

Text that reads Being 3Rs Means… Embracing Literacy Adults are always engaging children in literacy experiences Loving Black Children Adults see strength in Black Children & Families and Love Them Like Their Own Prioritizing High Quality, Racially Affirming Books Our community is full of books and materials that affirm Black culture and adults use them effectively. Working Together Adults and organizations work together so everyone has the support and resources they need and can align their efforts


For the overall 3Rs Initiative, we have five main research questions that help us understand how having the 3Rs in Allegheny County will strengthen adult and organizational literacy practices and ultimately children’s early literacy skills.

3Rs Research Questions

1.) Does the presence of the 3Rs initiative in Allegheny County, which centers racial equity & relationships in literacy experiences, increase Black children’s third grade literacy outcomes, countywide? Does it relate to an increase in third grade literacy outcomes in Allegheny County, overall?

2.) Does adult/organization participation in the 3Rs initiative relate to an increase in their 3Rs-related beliefs/knowledge/skills?

3.) Does an increase in the number of adults/organizations in Allegheny County with 3Rs-related beliefs/knowledge/skills relate to increased third grade literacy outcomes for Black children, countywide? Does it relate to higher third grade literacy outcomes in Allegheny County, overall?

4.) Does an increase in adult/organization 3Rs-related beliefs/knowledge/skills mediate the relation between the 3Rs initiative on Black children’s 3rd grade literacy outcomes, and 3rd grade literacy outcomes overall?

5.) What are 3Rs-related beliefs/knowledge/skills for adults and organizations?
Measurement: In order to create this 3Rs measure, we will engage our 3Rs team members and community champions in a visioning process about what we hope an adult or organization would belief, know, and be able to do after participation in the 3Rs. This will include initial focus group conversations, and a follow-up email to share what we heard and ask for any points of clarification.

The 3Rs Strands

Click in a strand below to learn more

Teacher pointing to chalkboardClassroom

One person with hand raisedLeaders

Hands shakingCommunity