Colquitt County Honored as a Pacesetter for Early Literacy Work

Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Recognizes Colquitt County as Exemplary

Colquitt County has been honored as a Pacesetter by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (GLR) for exemplary work in reducing barriers faced by children of low-income families on the path to becoming proficient readers. Nationwide, there were only 48 communities to earn this Pacesetter recognition.

“Pacesetter Honors are among the highest awards presented by the GLR Campaign,” said Ralph Smith, the Managing Director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. “We are very proud of Colquitt County and the numerous organizations and individuals behind the community for joining forces and working tirelessly to uplift children and families. They remind us that we are seeing great progress and real results all across the country.”

“Through our community’s collaborative effort we have been recognized as a model for uniting forces to reach our children from birth onward to provide for the parents information, skills, and tools to help children develop to their full potential and close the educational gap,” said Janet Sheldon, Colquitt County Family Connection executive director. “More than three-fourths of all our children are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade, this is due in part to the fact many children are already two years behind their peers when they begin school. The goal is to close this gap. Otherwise, children can become discouraged from their first day in school and shut down. Now, from their first day on earth, the whole world can open to them. Constantly ‘bathing’ a child in words; tell them what you are doing, what they see, ask questions, sing songs, play games, and read daily will do much to break this cycle of ‘word deficits.’ Giving parents and caregivers the knowledge gives them the power to change the outcome of children’s life for the better.”

Children living in poverty are at greater risks for not starting school ready to learn. Approximately 36 percent of Colquitt County’s children are living in poverty. Nationally, 61 percent of homes in poverty have no children’s books in the home. However, that will not be the case in Colquitt County as the school system is working to find ways to reach children with books where the need is the greatest; in the home. In 2016, only 20.8 percent of our third-grade students were reading proficient or at or above grade level, which correlates into 79.2 percent of our children are not reading at grade level. But, numerous sectors are coming together in Colquitt County to make a difference in the lives our youngest citizens, their parents, and the entire community.

The GLR Campaign recognizes Colquitt County, Georgia, as a 2016 Pacesetter for its efforts to support parent engagement success and community awareness in a campaign, “Something to Talk About,” which was born out of a grant from the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL). Colquitt County Family Connection was informed of this grant opportunity by Jill O’Meara, coordinator of the five-county Early Education Empowerment Zones (E3Z) and she has provided educational opportunities for professional growth, resource assistance, and encouragement since the beginning. The Colquitt County Family Connection then formed a special partnership, with Colquitt Regional Medical Center, and CEO Jim Matney, to launch Talk With Me Baby, an initiative in Georgia that aims to ensure every newborn receives language nutrition, described as “abundant, language-rich adult-child interactions.” The Georgia Department of Public Health supports this effort by providing materials for parents to take home and training hospital nurses and others in strategies for coaching parents of newborns on the importance of talking to their baby.

The goal is to ensure that families of every child born in Colquitt County hear this message regarding rapid early brain development and the critical nature of nurturing, holding, and talking to your baby constantly, right from the beginning. This is incorporated as a part receiving prenatal care, immediately following the baby’s birth. Mothers leave Colquitt Regional Medical Center with a brimming Baby Bag, including take home message reminders in the form of a Talk With Me Baby DVD, a board book that reiterates the message, and a bib that says, “Feed Me Words.”

The Colquitt County School System’s pre-K program provides excellent books age appropriate books for the baby. In addition the Blue Birds, hospital auxiliary, provide every baby with a ‘onsie,’ on which are emblazoned the words, “This Side Up.” Car seats for the baby’s transport home are provided, as well as a safe sleeping baby bunk to sleep alone, because the high numbers of baby deaths that occur in adults’ beds outstrip all other locations combined.

Colquitt County School System, Pre-K program, also provides books to be given away at follow-up wellness visits with pediatricians. The Talk With Me Baby DVD plays in a continuous loop, alternating in English and Spanish, in the waiting rooms of WIC, DFCS, and pediatrician offices. Cards that reinforce this message and a card with information on the free Vroom app, which messages individualized age appropriate means to engage with young children are there for pick-up, too.

Colquitt County is part of the Certified Literate Community Program, CLCP. In addition to working on GED, CLCP which puts on a Childrens Literacy Fair, headed up by Jessica Smith of the Department of Juvenile Justice, for the children in the park adjacent to the library. Many learning opportunities and fun abounds for children and patents times and again great free books round out the day. Moultrie-Colquitt County Public Library offers a children’s summer reading program that includes weekly live performances, over 550 kids participated last sumner, and almost 13,000 books were checked out. The YMCA coordinates in-school mentoring and tutoring, and Titus Ranch provides faith-based mentors and training outside of school. The community, on all fronts, continues to expand its support of babies, young children and parents through programs and dissemination of information to residents of the county through various venues.

The “Something to Talk About” campaign has been so successful that the Department of Public Health has contacted the Georgia Commission on Women to assist in rolling it out statewide, with Talk With Me Baby, at birthing hospitals, as the centerpiece. Susan Whiddon, a governor-appointed commissioner, volunteered to lead the project. She is a Colquitt County Family Connection Collaborative member.

Seminole and Whitfield counties also are among the 48 communities across the nation recognized as Pacesetters. Read “Three Georgia Counties Receive Annual Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Pacesetters Honors.”

Janet Sheldon
Colquitt County Family Connection Executive Director