Health officials say Reach Out and Read-Alabama is working in Jefferson County

Published: Jul. 19, 2022 at 6:48 PM CDT
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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WBRC) - A program designed to combine literacy and pediatric care is thriving in Jefferson County.

Reach Out and Read-Alabama provides books and coaching to families to help them make reading a part of their daily routine.

It’s been one year since Governor Kay Ivey announced a new partnership that would assist Reach Out and Read-Alabama with its mission to get families reading together.

The program is sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Jefferson County health officials say it’s working.

“You used to have children coming into the clinic to ask for a sucker, you know, a long time ago. And they’re so used to getting a book after their well-child visit that they ask for them, ‘Can I have a book?’ So, they expect that. And so, it’s much better to give them a book than it is to give them candy,” said Pediatric Medical Health Officer for JCDH, Dr. Maria Meyers.

Reach Out and Read-Alabama said 53% of Alabama children aren’t reading at grade-level by fourth grade and the number is even higher in underserved communities.

Through the Grade-Level Reading Campaign, the program is expanding its services to children living in five pilot counties, including Jefferson County.

“We want those kids to have the best and have the best chance. So, that’s why this program was developed to help those kids to kind of give them a good, healthy start for life,” Dr. Meyers said.

Kids aged 6 months to 5 years old receive a book from their pediatrician during wellness checkups.

Reach Out and Read said families who participate in the program read together more often, and Dr. Meyers said that experience goes beyond academics.

“When the parent bonds with the child through asking back and forth questions, we call that serve-and-return like tennis but it’s actually serve-and-return with a book. The mom’s asking questions, or the dad is asking a question and the child’s answering and they’re looking at each other. It’s just good overall for that child’s emotional well-being, which is so important,” Dr. Meyers explained.

Reach Out and Read-Alabama has given more than 1.6 million new books to vulnerable children in Alabama.

More than 300 health care providers throughout the state are participating in the program and Dr. Meyers expects that number to grow.

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