Reach Out and Read of Greater New York is having what Executive Director Laurie Williams calls “a good problem.” The non-profit organization trains and supports pediatricians and other medical providers to make literacy guidance a regular part of their pediatric practice. And these days, it cannot keep up with the demand of clinics and hospitals that want to get on board.
Currently, the small New York office serves 275,000 children ages six months to five years old annually and work with 5,550 partner doctors. However, several challenges remain, and Williams predicts things, in a digital age where parents are now handing their infant children smartphones, the stakes will only get higher.
According to Reach Out and Read– a part of the Healthy Start Community Action Network— 71.9 percent of NYC public school third graders do not read at grade level and the chances of them catching up are slim.
Williams said, “It just feels like such an unfair, inequitable situation that we feel that we can easily rectify by helping the parents see the value of [reading] as well. This should just level the playing field.”
Reach Out and Read is trying to level that playing field by promoting literacy from children’s first check up. Pediatricians trained by the organization distribute books to parents, encouraging them to read aloud to their children.
Six months old may seem a bit early to teach a baby to read, but Williams says that reading aloud not only fosters a bond with the baby, it introduces him or her to a variety of words. This may help close the 30 million word gap children from lower income families have, compared to their more well off counterparts.
Williams said that parents and children who take part in the program love it. She points to the example of Angelina, a seven year old who was exposed to the program at The Brooklyn Hospital Center, one of the 42 locations in Brooklyn. Even though she has now aged out of the program, Williams recalls Angelina saying, “I like to read– that’s my talent.”
Williams hopes Read Out and Read can expand the organization’s scope and serve more low-income communities that could benefit from the program.
“I think it’s a really good time, not only in the country but in New York, that this issue of early literacy is really on the front-burner and people are really paying a lot of attention to it,” said Williams.”That’s a really good thing.”