PNN Online - New Program Helps Close Literacy Gap for Children

Published Date: September 7, 2007

By age 3, children living in poverty have heard approximately 30 million fewer words than their counterparts who live in higher income households led by professionals.

The National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), headquartered in Louisville, Ky., and Every Child Succeeds (ECS), located in Greater Cincinnati, are joining efforts to close that gap. Literacy Begins at Home, a pilot project, is aimed to boost family literacy through in-home visits.

"Building literacy skills within the family is an essential part of being a parent," said Sharon Darling, president & founder of NCFL, a national organization dedicated to helping parents and children form a learning partnership that ends the cycle of poverty and low literacy.

ECS is a voluntary program that offers first-time mothers and their families support to help ensure an optimal start for their children. Since its inception in 1999, the program has served 12,000 families and made more than 230,000 home visits.

During these visits, parents are taught practical techniques on how to assist in their child's healthy physical, mental and emotional development. Darling said the ECS program was selected to pilot the literacy program because of its evidence-based approach to home visitation.

"The (home) visits that are offered by ECS are perfect for Literacy Begins at Home because the program will be able to reach families who have children ages 0-3 in the convenience of their homes, which will be more comfortable for them," she said. "By infusing family literacy into an existing, successful home-based program, families that are limited on time and know-how will still be able to greatly improve their child's literacy learning."

Literacy Begins at Home, in its first year, will create an intervention plan using an early language and literacy development curriculum to significantly improve language development, vocabulary and other literacy skills. ECS will implement the Literacy Begins at Home program through its existing home visit program, which uses a business model to deliver social services and has a record for delivering strong results.

Dr. Judith B. Van Ginkel, president of ECS, said that the program will assist parents in teaching their children important literacy fundamentals.

"ECS and NCFL together will develop literacy materials for children 0-3 that do not exist now," she said. "Further, there will be a focus on creating, writing and testing a strategy to teach home visitors to help families enrich their children's learning potential by addressing literacy at a young age," she said.

The sponsorship goal for the overall campaign is $230,000 over the next three years. Initial funding for the program is through two $75,000 donations provided by Toyota Engineering and Manufacturing North America, based in Erlanger, Ky. and by the Charles H. Dater Foundation, located in Cincinnati.

"We have been close partners with both NCFL and ECS for many years. When the need became apparent that a breakthrough early literacy curriculum was needed, it was an obvious and natural fit to get these two groups together," said Sig Huber of Toyota, who is also a member of the ECS Board of Directors and Executive Committee.

Jack Frank of the Dater Foundation added, "This program promises wonderful opportunities for the children in this region. We hope that other corporations and individuals will join us in supporting this program so that it can reach its full potential and positively impact as many kids as possible."

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