Pawtucket named state’s first ‘Bookend City’ for childhood literacy program

Pawtucket named state’s first ‘Bookend City’ for childhood literacy program

Reach Out and Read Rhode Island advocates celebrating Pawtucket’s Bookend City designation last Friday include, from left, Dr. Dawn Hogan, Dr. Emily Harrison, Dr. Natalia Lukankina, Dr. Carol Cancro, Congressman David Cicilline, Mayor Donald Grebien’s Chief of Staff Dylan Zelazo, Sen. Jack Reed, Audrey Jorge, Abigail Wetzel, and Dr. Elizabeth Gomes.

PAWTUCKET – Reach Out and Read Rhode Island honored the city of Pawtucket for 100 percent participation from pediatric and family medicine practices in the book handout program, naming it the first “Bookend City” in Rhode Island last Friday.

All 11 pediatric and family medicine practices in Pawtucket now hand out free books during checkups to children from ages 6 months to 5 years old. Each year, RORRI reaches 35,000 children statewide and hands out approximately 75,000 books, written in English, Spanish or both for bilingual families.

RORRI Communications Director Sydney Montstream-Quas said she believes Pawtucket’s success is due to the availability of affordable health care. She said more than 97 percent of children have health insurance and children are going to pediatricians. By working with physicians at wellness checkups, the barriers to the organization promoting literacy among children are gone, she said.

“All 11 practices in Pawtucket are participating and that’s huge. That means we’re reaching the majority of children here,” she said. Monstream-Quas said students who do well and are prepared for school do better long-term, and are more likely to graduate.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and Rep. David Cicilline were on hand at Affinity Family Medicine last Friday for the award ceremony. Accepting the glass bookend awards were representatives for Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien.

Reed said federally funded pediatric literacy programs make educational investments more effective over the long haul.

“The evidence is pretty clear: If you’re not on the path to literacy before you get to school, you’re not going to have a happy experience in school,” he said. “All the investment we made K-12 is nice, but if we don’t have programs like this, it’s not going be maximized efficiently and effectively.”

Reed added that due to RORRI’s advocacy and Pawtucket’s success, he was able to secure $27 million in federal funds to keep the program going.

“Prescribing a book is something that is very powerful. I’ve seen it work all across the state,” he said. “People tend to do what doctors tell them.”

Cicilline also applauded RORRI for the significant and substantial results of the program.

Dr. Elizabeth Gomes, of Affinity Family Medicine, spoke of the importance of early intervention and literacy when dealing with youth education.

“Almost every time I hand out a book, I’m met with enthusiasm and gratitude from the parents,” she said, adding, “I gave a 5-year-old patient a book, and he became very upset, and refused the book. I decided to probe, and we were eventually able to diagnose the patient with dyslexia and he is now getting the help he needs.”

Gomes choked up several times as she said how strongly she feels about the work of RORRI. Sharing a story about growing up in Central Falls and Pawtucket, she said she did not have children’s books of her own.

“Most (parents) are surprised to learn that babies are starting to learn about language as early as the first few months of life,” she said. “They are equally surprised to learn that just reading to them nightly will give their children an advantage when it comes to their education.”

Gomes said it is important to reach the children of Pawtucket, many of whom are rich in culture but lacking in resources.

“This program helps children, especially those who are in need of any advantage they can get,” she said.

Audrey Jorge, a registered nurse at the Family Care Center at Memorial Hospital, has participated with RORRI for 14 years. She said the goal is to give children 10 books by the time they reach preschool. Shifting the focus from physical and mental health to educational as well improves the lives for both the children and parents.

“It also gives us the opportunity to have the parents go to literacy programs if the parent is not able to read the book to the child,” she said. “If we have a young parent that maybe had an issue with school, we try to get them involved in a GED program. So introducing the book to the child is actually a family thing.”