According to Voices for Alabama's Children 2012 Kids Count Data Book, 27.4 percent of Alabama's children live in poverty, making the need for early literacy promotion urgent in this high risk population in our state. "This focus on the early years is long overdue, and I applaud our leaders' efforts to broaden access to high-quality preschool, invest in a new Early Head Start-Child Care partnership, and extend voluntary home visiting programs to vulnerable children and families, said Dr. Grant Allen, president of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the medical coordinator of the Reach Out and Read program at Infants' & Children's Clinic in Florence, Alabama.
Reach Out and Read (www.reachoutandread.org) is an evidence-based, national nonprofit organization that promotes early literacy and school readiness at regular pediatric checkups by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud. Reach Out and Read's model includes providing a new, age-appropriate book for each child to take home at every checkup from six months through five years. Along with the free book for every child, doctors and nurses provide guidance to parents about the importance of reading aloud with their children every day. The program costs just $10 per year per child, or $50 per child for the full five-year program.
In Alabama, Reach Out and Read serves 74,000 children annually in 70 pediatric practices, health centers, and hospitals. In Dothan, two pediatric clinics -- Dothan Pediatric Clinic and Southeastern Pediatrics Associates, PA -- participate in Reach Out and Read and serve almost 18,000 children annually.
While Alabama led the nation in 4th grade reading improvement on the national Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) from 2003 to 2011, according to the latest 2012 report from the Southern Regional Education Board, 69 percent of the state's fourth graders are still not proficient in reading.
"I have no doubt that the President's plan will help thousands of children start and stay on a path to success. But, it's only part of the equation. The rest comes from parents - in the home, with a book. Books truly build better brains. The more young children are exposed to books and positive images of reading, the more likely they are to grow up reading voluntarily and eagerly," according to Dr. Allen.
Nationwide, Reach Out and Read doctors and nurses serve 4 million children and their families annually at nearly 5,000 locations, with a focus on those that serve low-income communities.