Before PreK, Pediatricians Help New York Families Prepare Kids for School
Reach Out and Read of Greater New York children’s literacy program expands to 200 health centers throughout New York.
New York, NY — January 29, 2014
While President Obama, Governor Cuomo, and Mayor DeBlasio make access to preschool a priority for their administrations, hundreds of pediatricians across the region are already doing their part to prepare children for school. Through the organization Reach Out and Read of Greater New York, pediatricians empower parents to prep for kindergarten by reading aloud to children as young as 6 months old.
“Right now there’s a real focus on PreK and access to early education, especially for children from low-income families,” said Reach Out and Read of Greater New York’s Executive Director, Traci Lester. “But if we want to prepare children for meaningful academic achievement, we need to work with at-risk families long before preschool.”
One way of reaching the very young is through their pediatricians: In New York, 92% of children birth through 5 years old see their doctor at least once a year for a checkup – more than any other service provider. By working with pediatricians, Reach Out and Read of Greater New York is able to deliver its message to over a quarter of a million families. The program aims at closing the widening achievement gap for poor and minority children by focusing on brain development between 0-5 years old, when 90% of brain development occurs.
According to a number of recent studies, a key factor in the divide is that many low-income children are simply not hearing enough words at home. The landmark Hart-Risley study showed that by age 3, children from privileged families have heard 30 million more words than children from underprivileged families, a factor that has long-term effects on learning.
The achievement gap is particularly severe in New York City, where 71.9% of third graders in public school are reading below grade level, according to the Citizen’s Committee for Children.
While access to preschool is important, Ms. Lester asserts that access to books and reading at home is critical in laying a foundation for school success.
This February, Reach Out and Read of Greater New York expands to its 200th clinical location. The organization was founded in 1999 with a coalition of just 40 pediatric clinics. Since then, the program’s growth in the region has been explosive.
A critical part of the program is to give free, age-appropriate books to children 6 months through 5 years old at each health checkup. The books don’t just benefit patients; they help the doctors, too. “Having Reach Out and Read in our practice has informed the way that we interact with families,” said Dr. Leora Mogilner, Mount Sinai Medical Center. “It allows us to use the book and the parent-child interaction around the book to determine how the child is doing developmentally.”
“Giving books to my patients is one of the most satisfying parts of my job,” said Dr. Sandra Braganza, a pediatrician at Montefiore Medical Group Comprehensive Health Care Center.
Reach Out and Read of Greater New York reaches over 250,000 children annually, mostly from low-income families in high-need communities. It is in pediatric clinics in large public hospitals, in small community health centers, in clinics serving families in homeless shelters like the Auburn Family Residence in Queens, in foster care settings like the Children’s Aid Society, and even in school-based health clinics.
“We want to keep expanding,” said Ms. Lester. “Our goal is to make books and literacy guidance a part of every check-up for every child.”