North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson sat before a group of young children at the Wake County Child Health Clinic and opened the book, “Good Night, Gorilla.”
“Let’s see if I’m able to capture your attention,” Johnson said to the most distractable members of the audience, less than a year old, before he began reading.
Johnson was on hand Wednesday to recognize a $7,500 grant from UnitedHealthcare to promote early childhood reading for Wake County families.
The grant, presented in coordination with the non-profit Reach Out and Read Carolinas, will provide 2,500 books to the Wake County Child Health Clinic. The donation will allow children, from ages six months to five years, to receive a new book each time they come in for appointments.
“Literacy is a critical component of the overall health and well-being of a child,” UnitedHealthcare Vice President Anita Bachmann said in a written statement.
Dr. Alka Mehta, a pediatrician at the clinic, said 90 percent of brain development occurs within the first five years of life – making early childhood reading especially important.
“The books are an integral part of what we do,” she said.
Many of the children who visit the clinic come from low-income families, and about 75 percent of those families are Spanish-speaking, said Mehta. She said it is especially important for these families to have access to books and encouragement to read to their children.
“A lot of our families don’t have money, they don’t have exposure to books,” she said. “Some of our parents don’t have high literacy skills themselves, and books are kind of scary to a lot of people.”
Carolyn Merrifield, the programs director for Reach Out and Read Carolinas, said reading with young children creates positive memories for children because of the family bonding.
“Having that positive experience, combined with helping their brains develop and helping them navigate the world of childhood, really makes a difference,” she said.
Kimishal Peebles, who brings her 6-year-old daughter Mikiya and her 7-month-old son Ricardo to the clinic, has noticed the impact reading has made on her children.
She said Mikiya, a first-grader at Fox Road Elementary School, is already reading on a third-grade level.
“The doctor suggested it was a good thing to do, and it’s definitely paying off,” Peebles said.
Mikiya sat front and center as Superintendent Johnson was reading, and she picked out one of her favorite books for him to read – “The Book with No Pictures.”
What does Mikiya like to read the most? The Dr. Seuss books – all of them.
“Now Mikiya reads to her brother every day, numerous times a day, to where I don’t even get a chance to read to him,” Peebles said. “And she’s doing so well.”
Sam Killenberg: 919-829-4582