Literacy—It Takes a Village

By Lindsay Black
Vice President of Marketing, Fairview Park Hospital

According to Get Georgia Reading, two-thirds of Georgia’s third-graders are not reading on grade level, bringing long-term negative consequences to these children, their families and to our communities. These numbers are alarming. When a child cannot read by third grade, it can have so many negative impacts on their life. A recent study showed that students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers. Those who live in poverty are three times more likely to drop out or fail to graduate on time.

Why? Why is it so difficult for some children to be able to read by third grade and what can we do about it? Research tells us that it actually starts far earlier than we expect. It starts far before children enter formal schooling. It starts at birth. It starts at home but it takes a village to help. Every person a child comes in contact with is key to a child’s future success in reading.

According to Reading Rockets (a national public multimedia project that offers strategies, lessons, and activities to help young children learn how to read and to read better), “Children who have stimulating literacy experiences from birth onward have an edge in vocabulary development, understanding the goals of reading, and developing an awareness of print and literacy concepts.”

Children who are most at risk for reading failure enter kindergarten and elementary grades without these experiences. “In short, children raised in poverty, having parents with limited proficiency in English, and coming from homes where the parents’ reading levels and practices are low as well as children with speech, language, and hearing handicaps are at increased risk of reading failure.”

“The greatest amount of learning takes place during the first three years of life,” said Ronda Walker, the Early Literacy Specialist at Southwest Laurens Elementary (SWLE) in Laurens County. “The three critical components of brain development during this time are social-emotional development, cognitive development, and literacy and language development. Reading to a child develops the brain in all three critical areas. Reading and even talking to a baby will increase their literacy proficiency exponentially.”

In light of these findings, the Read To Me idea was conceived and through community support, brought to life. On the day a child is born, Read To Me educates parents about the importance of reading to their children. This past February, we at Fairview Park Hospital were excited to launch the Read to Me Project in partnership with the Laurens County School District.

What better way to say “I love you” to our littlest patients than by giving them the gift of literacy? On February 14 the Read to Me project was born. With the help of the FERST Readers Foundation, each baby born at Fairview Park Hospital is provided a onesie with “Read to Me” imprinted on the front of it. This provides a fun and gentle reminder that reading to your children from the day they are born is essential. Parents are also given the opportunity to sign their child up to receive free books every month until the age of 5. Children’s books and educational materials are delivered right to their door.

“New moms love this new program,” said Michelle Smith, Director of Women’s Services at Fairview Park Hospital. “We have the blessing of being with them on one of the most memorable and special days of their lives. Offering this program helps ensure good reading habits are instilled in their lives the day they are born. Many moms have shared with me how thankful they are that this program is now offered.”

The Laurens County School District also provided several tablets to our pediatric waiting areas for children to read books while they are waiting to be seen or being prepped for surgery.

Over the past year, the Laurens County School District has been building a robust Literacy Program to improve literacy rates in Dublin-Laurens County. In 2018, Laurens County Schools were awarded a $2.4 million literacy grant (L4G Grant) to promote and support literacy efforts in the community and schools.

A Literacy Task Force was formed and it is a force! It is comprised of numerous passionate community leaders eager to serve and motivate parents and children to read. Spearheaded by Dr. Ronda Hightower (Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Learning for the Laurens County School District), Ronda Walker (SWLE Early Literacy Specialist) and Betsy Glisson (L4G Grant Coordinator for the Laurens County School District), the Literacy Task Force has launched several projects with a variety of community agencies.

Here are a few:

Pediatrician Offices: Children’s books have been provided for well and sick waiting rooms and exam rooms, and literacy information is given at each wellness check.

Little Libraries: The Laurens County School High School Construction Classes graciously built eight “Little Libraries,” which were painted by student artists. They have been placed in strategic locations, so children can have easy access to books.

Chamber of Commerce: Our Dublin-Laurens Chamber of Commerce and Chamber President Heath Taylor have been working with state agencies to help support Quality Rated child care.

Children’s Medical Services: FERST premature babies have been given a “Read to Me” onesie, have been signed up for FERST Readers, and have been given educational literacy information. There is also a bookshelf of children’s books provided in their lobby.

Headstart: A free Little Library has been installed with access to children’s books. Children’s books and educational bookmarks have been distributed to parents and children. An educational workshop held for parents titled “Raising a Reader” where parents were given a Readers Toolbox filled with several items to encourage reading to their children.

Babies Can’t Wait: Children’s books and educational bookmarks have been given to parents and children. One hundred LeapFrog Fridge Phonics educational toys distributed to children. Fridge Phonics reinforces alphabet knowledge, including letter names and sounds, which is an important first step in learning to read.

Family Connections and Community Health: A free Little Library has been installed for the after school students to paint and use. Educational information will be shared at upcoming events about the importance of reading to children. Special social-emotional books have been provided for the mental health lobby.

Division of Family and Children Services: A children’s area has been installed in the waiting room. Literacy education videos are available on TV screens during wait times.

St. Patrick’s Festival Parade: Children’s books and reading giveaways were passed out during the parade.

Downtown Dublin: The Laurens County School District set up a booth at the Bon Temps Crawfish Festival to handout literacy information and children’s books.

How can you help?

Please partner with us to sustain the reading program, so that every child in Laurens County has access to books. Children in the FERST Readers literacy program receive a free bookstore-quality, age-specific book and resources mailed to them at home every month until their fifth birthday. The cost to sustain this program is $36 per child per year.

Thank you to these local businesses for helping Laurens County launch the program with their financial support: Laurens County Schools L4G Grant, Fairview Park Hospital, Morris Bank, Oconee EMC.

To learn more about our literacy efforts, contact the Laurens County School District at (478) 272-4767.

Lindsay Black is the Vice President of Marketing at Fairview Park Hospital and serves on the Literacy Task Force Committee. In her free time, Lindsay enjoys volunteering, playing tennis, and painting. She lives in downtown Dublin with her husband, Steven, and their two dogs.

This article was originally published in the 2019 Summer Edition of Laurens NOW Magazine.