In 2013, the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported that, nationally, 66 percent of fourth graders (82 percent if indigent) were not reading proficiently. In June of that year, I was part of a group of concerned community members who met with the administration of the Wayne County Public School System to discuss these troubling findings.
In Wayne County alone, we know that at least 50 percent of the kindergarten students in our local public schools are not ready to learn to read, and that over 50 percent of the students entering fourth grade are not reading proficiently.
During our meetings with school authorities, we concluded that the problem is not so much K-3 education, but the fact that far too many children enroll in kindergarten who do not have the necessary skills to learn to read. The Wayne County school administration made a presentation to the providers at Goldsboro Pediatrics, the practice I founded in 1977, to show that we must change the way parents interact with babies and young children if we are to improve school readiness of kindergarten students and the reading skills of students entering fourth grade.
There is research that shows that the children who hear their parents say the most words during the first two years of life are most likely to have the best language skills when they enter kindergarten and will be most ready to learn to read. Furthermore, studies show that some children hear ten times as many words as other children during the first two years of life, and that poverty has a significant negative impact on early literacy. In addition, recent research demonstrates that when the television is on in the home, adult conversation drops significantly.
Goldsboro Pediatrics is unique in that it provides comprehensive child health services for the vast majority of children in Wayne County. The practice has funded and implemented Reach Out and Read for over ten years. This program integrates literacy promotion into primary care through well-child visits. Reach Out and Read trains providers to advise parents about the importance of sharing books and language with their children daily, starting from birth, to achieve optimal early language development and school readiness. Primary care providers also send children home from each check-up with age- and culturally-appropriate books starting at six months old and continuing through the fifth-year visit. When the providers give the books to the children, they reinforce the importance of parents reading to children every day.
Despite more than a decade of this evidence-based intervention, Wayne County is seeing a greater need to enhance the impact of Reach Out and Read with a layering of services and overlap of parent education. Reach Out and Read, though effective, is only one piece of a larger community-level solution, and cannot achieve kindergarten readiness on its own.
In 2013, a steering committee of community partners was formed to try to move this agenda to the front burner for the community. Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne County helped us organize and conduct a community forum in 2014. The Partnership for Children of Wayne County funded and organized a reception for committee members. Over 100 people attended the evening forum at a local theater. A second forum was conducted by the Wayne County Public Schools at a local church that same year with about 100 persons in attendance.
Out of those meetings, our group articulated a three-part agenda for our county-wide initiative:
- Encourage all adult caretakers to spend as much time as possible engaged in face-to-face talking with babies and young children.
- Encourage all adult caretakers of children to turn off the television and other screen-based technology whenever babies and young children are awake, or to utilize screen-based technology to involve babies and young children in meaningful face-to-face conversations.
- Encourage all adult caretakers of children to read with babies and young children every day from birth until they enter fourth grade as proficient readers.
In early 2014, Wayne Memorial Hospital helped us develop a video about school readiness and this video currently is being shown to families who have just delivered babies at the hospital, and is being aired on the closed circuit TV at the maternity clinic of the local health department, and on the closed circuit television in the four offices of Goldsboro Pediatrics.
Nola Claiborne, a certified lactation consultant at Goldsboro Pediatrics, has assisted me with the day-to-day activities of the project. Nola has met with a parents group at a local housing project to show the video and discuss school readiness issues. We have spoken to groups of parents and educators at local conferences and community events.
Charles Ivey, director of the Partnership for Children of Wayne County (Smart Start), spoke to a large community leadership group, convened by the local Chamber of Commerce, and Wanda Becton, health coordinator for WAGES (Wayne Action Group for Economic Solvency) Head Start, dressed up in Mary Poppins attire and read to a group of parents, grandparents, and children at a dinner hosted by Goldsboro Pediatrics at a local housing project.
In 2015, the Wayne County Public Library and the Partnership for Children of Wayne County worked together to develop a plan whereby the library would become the lead organization for our early literacy project. The Partnership for Children and United Way of Wayne County provided significant funding.
Just last month, we convened a meeting of about 30 partner organization representatives at Wayne Memorial Hospital to review the history of the project, examine the most recent school readiness data of the public schools, and to develop strategies for achieving our goals moving forward.
Our steering committee agreed to name the ongoing project Read Wayne. A local foundation, Wayne First, will work with the library to find a way for the foundation to provide funding for the project going forward.
The Wayne County Public Library has secured funding for a full-time project coordinator to lead our new initiative and continue the community engagement work. We think that if the Read Wayne project coordinator can become the face of this program in the county, and involve all our partnership organizations in promoting our school readiness agenda for five years, that we will be able increase our local school-readiness percentage to 75 percent.
And the list of partner organizations is growing day by day:
- Partnership for Children of Wayne County
- Wayne Action Group for Economic Solvency (WAGES) Head Start/Early Head Start
- Wayne County Public Schools
- Goldsboro Pediatrics
- County of Wayne
- City of Goldsboro
- University of Mount Olive
- Wayne Community College
- Wayne Memorial Hospital
- Wayne County Public Library
- Goldsboro Housing Authority
- Cooperative Extension Service of Wayne County
- United Way of Wayne County
- Wayne County Chamber of Commerce
- Seymour Johnson Air Force Base
- St. Paul United Methodist Church
- Sydney’s Book Club
The Wayne County Public Schools are working with state officials and are implementing more effective ways to measure school readiness of kindergarten enrollees and the reading skills of elementary school students to have project milestones and empirical measures for our outcomes. Our public school authorities feel comfortable that formal measuring systems are in place so that we can determine the success of our school readiness project.
Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, P.H Brookes, 1995
Christakis, DA, Gilkerson, J, Richards, MA, Zimmerman, FJ, Garrison, MM, Xu, DX, Gray, SG, Yapanel, U, “Audible Television and Decreased Adult Words, Infant Vocalizations, and Conversational Turns,” Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2009; 163(6): 554-558