Pediatric residents at Hopkins are worried about a recent
scourge that bodes poorly for the future of Baltimore's children-
-illiteracy. While inoculations against measles, rubella and
whooping cough often bring tears along with protection, a
"vaccination" against illiteracy is something new and painless
the doctor has ordered for starting a healthy life.
"Illiteracy correlates with poor earning potential and welfare dependency," says Teri Metcalf, a pediatric resident at Hopkins Hospital who, along with Trevor Funderburk of Volunteer Services, senior Child Life specialist Mary Ash and instructor in pediatrics John Andrews, is coordinating the program. "The National Commission on Reading says that a child's future reading success depends on parents reading aloud to their children. Many parents don't realize the importance of this. Or, because of their own educational limits, parents are unable to read to their children. This program integrates parent education about literacy with regularly scheduled health maintenance visits for children."
Reach Out And Read was founded at Boston City Hospital in 1987 by educator Kathleen Fitzgerald Rice and two pediatricians, Robert Needlman and Barry Zuckerman. The founders wanted to provide disadvantaged families with the tools and support they needed to assure a literate future for their children. Since 1987, Reach Out And Read programs have been started at many clinics across the country.
At Hopkins, Reach Out And Read will be kicked off during the week of June 9 to 13 at the Harriet Lane Primary Care Clinic in East Baltimore. The clinic serves about 6,000 children. According to clinic tracks, 50 to 80 percent of these children, between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, come from households that are below the poverty level.
"Often the people we see are struggling to pay for food and housing and don't have enough resources to buy books for their children," Metcalf explains.
The reading program entails three steps. In the clinic waiting room, community volunteers read aloud to children. When the child sees the doctor or nurse practitioner, they are given an age-appropriate book and assessed for their response. When the clinic visit ends, the child is given a "prescription" for reading and a free book appropriate for them.
"Every child will receive a book at each health maintenance visit up to age 5," Metcalf says. "They'll have at least 10 books by the time they start school."
Metcalf points out that yet another goal of the program is to identify parents who have reading deficits and refer them to an appropriate adult literacy program.
Although Reach Out And Read is supported by grants from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Children's Miracle Network Telethon, Metcalf says volunteers are needed to read to children in the clinic waiting room.
"We like to get a one hour per week commitment from volunteers," Trevor says. "The hours are between 10 a.m. and noon and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday."
Although the program gets books at a discount through the "Reading Is Fundamental" program, donations of new or gently used books, or donations of money to buy books, would be appreciated, Metcalf adds.
You can reach Teri Metcalf at 410-358-4746. If you'd like to volunteer to read to children, call Trevor Funderburk at 410-955-5924.
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