December 10, 1999

Reaching out to read

Featured Image

Fourth-year Vanderbilt medical student Mandy Frisch reads to Latethia Abernathy, 7, and her brother Thomas, 8, in the waiting room of the Pediatric Continuity Clinic. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Reaching out to read

Beginning early next year the Pediatric Continuity Clinic at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital will offer the next best thing to sitting in Grandma's lap to listen to a storybook.

Through a new childhood literacy program, volunteers will be on hand every day to read books to preschool children waiting for checkups. Each year, there are more than 2,500 well-child visits in the clinic.

Then, once the checkup is completed, the child will be given a book to take home as a gift.

The Reach Out and Read program is a national effort that makes early literacy part of pediatric primary care. The idea is to broaden the concept of pediatric well baby care to encompass literacy intervention at the earliest stages of a child's development, integrating reading promotion into regularly scheduled pediatric visits. The program hopes to reach low-income families where books and reading are not ordinarily part of a child's environment.

The five-year Vanderbilt program is made possible by a gift from Dr. Rebecca Swan, assistant professor of Pediatrics, and her husband, Dr. Michael Swan, a local obstetrician-gynecologist. The monetary gift for the program was made in memory of their 14-month-old daughter, Johanna, who died in April.

"The gift is a memorial to our daughter who loved her books, and is based on our commitment and belief that children need to be exposed to books at an early age," said Dr. Rebecca Swan. "My husband and I wanted to start some type of reading program and our idea matched the Reach Out and Read program. We believe it will be an excellent addition to the hospital."

The program is being tailored to the needs of Vanderbilt Children's Hospital by Mandy Frisch and Barron Patterson, fourth-year students at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Also assisting in the implementation of the program are Drs. Gregory Plemmons, assistant professor of Pediatrics and Robert L. Van DerVoort Jr., associate professor of Pediatrics and director of the Continuity Clinic.

About 10-20 volunteers, 16 years of age and older, will be recruited to staff the clinic during its busiest hours — 10 a.m. until noon and 3-5 p.m. It is hoped that the volunteers will sign up to work a minimum of two hours once a week, for at least a six-month period.

After a child is read to in the clinic waiting room, he or she will be given an age- and culturally-appropriate children's book to take home. Parents will also be counseled on how to use books to support their child's healthy development.

Spanish books will also be available.

Frisch said that more than 3,000 books will be purchased. There will be 15 different titles with two different books available for each age range. If a child is seen for each of the visits between 6 months and 5 years of age, he or she will receive a total of 10 books.

"It is important to encourage children to become involved with books at a preschool age," Frisch said. "It's a critical time of development of reading and writing skills."

Frisch said she is excited about being involved in implementing the program.

"That's the reason I want to go into the public health arena. Something like this allows you to affect so many more people's lives. It's very beneficial to help set up a program like this."

For more information about volunteering for the program, contact the Volunteer Services office at 322-2379.