Guest Columnist

Putting emphasis on reading, literacy

A popup in “The Clever Ducklings” book, shown as part of the Pop Ups From Prague exhibit at the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids in December 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A popup in “The Clever Ducklings” book, shown as part of the Pop Ups From Prague exhibit at the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids in December 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

At the Young Parents Network, we are committed to parents and have continually challenged them to take a leadership role in their child’s learning. This commitment and mission is unwavering and spans three decades. We are proud of this history but wanted to do more, so we sought community partners that would enable us to reach more children so they could gain important literacy skills before entering school.

In 2015, YPN and the Cedar Rapids Public Library partnered to create the “Ready to Read” program. “Ready to Read” works with families in local schools and neighborhoods to build upon beginning literacy skills by offering parent/child reading activities. The core areas of focus include: print knowledge, vocabulary, phonological awareness, and narrative. All of these things are essential in order for children to be successful and experience academic achievement.

Many children and families in our community face barriers to success, and programs like this are one way to remove some of those barriers. In the first two years, “Ready to Read” has successfully served over 350 children and their parents. Programming was delivered in more than five languages and was supported by nearly 100 trained volunteers. Additionally, this program helped to get books into homes that might not otherwise have them.

Examples of these types of partnerships and successes exist in many places in our community but they are often underestimated. The impact we can have as a community when we partner and get creative can, and does, bring about meaningful change.

It is estimated that children who come from lower income homes are statistically at a disadvantage when compared to their higher income peers. Research shows that children from low-income households know only 525 words by their 3rd birthday as compared to the 1,116 words known by children of the same age who live in professional households. When we come together as a community to educate parents on the importance of readying and engaging young children into active reading early, we can move the needle and instigate positive change.

In the weeks to come, you will begin to hear about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, an initiative the Cedar Rapids Public Library is introducing to our community. This program is a critical component in the effort to increase school readiness. At YPN, our goal is to help remove as many barriers as possible so parents can be active, contributing members of our community. Many households lack access to the books and materials necessary for families and children to advance their word knowledge and preparedness. Access to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is free and helps to remove a critical financial barrier. Families enrolled will be giving their children the best opportunity to get the start we all, as a supportive community, want them to have. I encourage you to get involved in one of the many impactful literacy projects in our community and join YPN as we “grow UP, together.”

• Brian Stutzman is executive director of the Young Parents Network in Cedar Rapids.

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