By State Rep. Vincent Pedone
Early childhood is the most important time during a person’s life, and as parents we have a responsibility to provide our children with the best possible education during these formative years.
Language skills, in particular, are developed at a very young age. It is proven that children who begin school with strong language skills will be better students. Unfortunately, 34 percent of American children today enter kindergarten lacking the basic language skills they need to learn to read. It is crucial, then, that we improve our home learning environment to ensure that our children are ready to learn when they enter school.
Reach Out and Read is a non-profit, Massachusetts-founded organization that addresses this necessity and helps prepare our children to succeed in school. Started by pediatricians and early childhood educators, this highly successful public-private program encourages parents to read aloud to children and make a difference in their developmental skills.
15 Worcester hospitals, clinics and doctor offices participate in Reach Out and Read, and our community has witnessed the benefits. Through these programs, doctors and nurses go beyond standard medical care procedures and advise parents on how to read to children at each developmental stage. Pediatricians give patients a book to take home every time they visit to encourage parents to make reading aloud a routine activity at home.
The impact is significant, and the cost is minimal. Children served by Reach Out and Read score significantly higher on vocabulary tests and enjoy a six-month developmental gain in their preschool years. It also encourages parents to take an active role in their child’s education. And since doctors and nurses volunteer their time with Reach Out and Read, the only primary expense is the cost of the children’s books. The non-profit organization costs approximately $50 per child over a five-year period, and that expense is paid for by the public sector, corporations and foundations, and individual donors. Every child in program enters kindergarten with a library of at least ten books.
Reach Out and Read has expanded across the United States, and its success is living proof that a very small amount of money can go a long way. It is an organization that understands how to stretch every dollar for the betterment of our children, and that is another reason why I fully support its mission.
This spring, the Commonwealth will again face difficult decisions as it tries to pass a fair and balanced budget for the 2012 fiscal year. As a legislator, I am fully aware of Massachusetts’ need to tighten spending, and I believe we can exercise fiscal responsibility by identifying essential programs and services.
Reach Out and Read is one of those essential programs, and it has played a significant role in Massachusetts’ ability to maintain its hold as the best state in the nation in education. The impact in Worcester is evident, too, as our community’s literacy rates have improved tremendously over the past ten years. By emphasizing the importance of early childhood development, Reach Out and Read has proven that it benefits our children, and that is why it deserves our support.