June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

County Health & Dentistry pediatricians promote literacy among patients awaiting their checkups

A visit to the doctor will be a lesson in literacy if Lorain County Health & Dentistry’s new program is a success.

Kenia Santiago looks at a book with the help of her mom, Keenia Santiago, at the Lorain County Health & Dentistry building in Lorain. (CT photo by Bruce Bishop.)

Kenia Santiago looks at a book with the help of her mom, Keenia Santiago, at the Lorain County Health & Dentistry building in Lorain. (CT photo by Bruce Bishop.)

The agency, which treats the uninsured and the underinsured, jumpstarted a new local chapter of the Reach Out and Read program, which has 5,000 other sites nationwide.

The goal is to introduce early literacy skills into pediatric checkups at its locales in Elyria and Lorain.

With an emphasis on low-resource communities, doctors participating are trained to educate parents on the importance of encouraging their children to read.

With the help of a grant from the Stocker Foundation, Health & Dentistry began the chapter May 1, bringing on Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator Katie Burke to spearhead the project.

“Reach Out and Read is a tie-in to the holistic, all-around health care we do,” Burke said. “Reading is just as important to our providers as physical health.”

Reach Out and Read targets preschool children between 6 months and 5 years and offers three main tiers for literacy growth in doctors’ offices.

During the examination, pediatricians help parents create a daily routine during which they read aloud to their children. Also, the health center gives each child visitor a new, age-appropriate book, ordered from Reach Out and Read, for keeps. Furthermore, the waiting room is curated to inspire young readers; books for all ages donated by Leadership Lorain County’s Best Class of 2013 are loaned, and sometimes given, to patients who have long finished kindergarten.

“The program encourages family bonding,” Burke said. “And it gets kids interested in reading.”

The books are important tools for the doctors as well. Chief Clinical Officer Robyn Miklovich reads with patients to assess progress in their literacy skill development.

“It gives us an opportunity to talk with the parents about reading and their child’s learning,” Miklovich said. “They can ask questions, and we can get a sense of what’s going on at home.”

Reading during appointments makes kids and parents more comfortable interacting with the doctors, a meeting that, according to Miklovich, is sometimes scary and tense for families.

“The books take the children away from where they are,” Miklovich said. “And parents like to read to their kids in the exam room.”

Because it is suggested to visit pediatricians several times throughout early childhood, the patients end up with 11 books by the time they are 5, a big collection for a young kid. This ensures that the parents, regardless of their financial freedom to purchase books, will be able to read with their children.

“The program is really nice,” said Earcielee Chisholm, parent of two kids participating in Reach Out and Read. “I enjoy reading to my kids because it helps them.”

Chisholm said she reads with all six of her children.

The program shows strides in the participant’s learning in elementary school. According to Reach Out and Read’s press release, children served by the program score three to six months ahead of other students on vocabulary exams, meeting the program’s mission to send kids to elementary school better prepared.

“It is an opportunity for me to physically help them learn,” said Miklovich. “I want kids to succeed and have the skills and encouragement to graduate from high school.”

Contact Elizabeth Kuhr at 329-7126 or ekuhr@chroniclet.com.