A book a day keeps both pediatrician, patient happy
For 2-year-old Kia Fontenberry, visiting a doctor for a cold might have resulted in a frightening experience. In fact, when Dr. Sandra Robinson, a pediatrician at the Daughters of Charity Health Center clinic on Prytania Street, initially walked in the exam room, Kia buried her face in the side of her mother, Breione Simon.
But, once a children’s book was put into Kia’s hand, she instantly interacted with Dr. Robinson. This allowed Dr. Robinson to examine her and note her age-appropriate developmental growth that included Kia turning pages and pointing at pictures.
The books – part of a program called “Reach Out and Read” – are usually given to children on “well” visits, but sometimes nurses give them to sick children.
“But I’ve had kids who come in now that, after we talk, they say, ‘Dr. Robinson, can I have a book?’”
Simon said she’s received four to five books at the clinic, and she and her sisters often read to Kia.
“She points at the pictures and she shows them to the other kids in the house,” Simon said. “She also knows her numbers.”
Started in Boston
Reach Out and Read was introduced by Dr. Robinson to the clinic after Hurricane Katrina. It is affiliated with a national nonprofit program that began in Boston in 1989 geared to encourage reading skills in children from six months to 5 years old.
The program is now in health centers, clinics and hospitals in all 50 states. Approximately 4.5 million children are reached annually with 6.6 million books in English and Spanish. In Louisiana, nearly 27,000 children are reached.
The Prytania Street clinic is just one of the Daughters of Charity Health Centers approved by the national Reach Out and Read. Daughter of Charity Sister Bonnie Hoffman, vice president of mission integration, said the Metairie, Kenner, Carrollton, Louisa and New Orleans East health centers have been participating for years.
“We’re trying to make it more robust,” Sister Bonnie said. She hopes to expand the program by recruiting volunteers to read to children in waiting rooms.
“We’re hoping to address the family level of literacy,” she said. “Children like to engage with books. Their psychomotor skills and verbal skills are developed by using books. Their literacy level will increase. They will interact with the person helping them to read.”
Dr. Robinson, a native of New Orleans who graduated from Xavier Preparatory School, earned a bachelor of science and medical degrees from Howard University in Washington, D.C., has a subspecialty in outpatient pediatrics, a master’s in public health, was secretary of the state DHHR, deputy director for the health department in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and has clinic management experience. She said her varied experience has exposed her to people of varying circumstances, including many children and their development.
She said Reach Out and Read is a way to help families in crisis and give children from low socio-economic backgrounds a head start on learning.
“In a time when there are more and more single parents, especially mothers making less money in their jobs, how can you give their kids an opportunity for success?” Dr. Robinson asked. “Reading is one of the things that can ready someone for success. It not only helps increase vocabulary and ability to concentrate; it allows the development of imagination. It gives you contact with a human being, not just a computer.”
Dr. Robinson said over time with books, she’s seen parents – many who were not readers and weren’t read to as children – get more involved and bond with their children, unlike when a child plays a video game alone on a computer or electronic device.
When children begin to read, they are reading out loud and asking questions, similar to what their experience will be when they enter kindergarten in school. This creates less fear and more self-esteem in children, she said.
Reach Out and Read (reachoutandread.org) reviewed 16 research studies and found that “during preschool years, the children served by (the program) score three to six months ahead” of children who were never introduced to books or read to.
“It gives kids a tremendous start,” Dr. Robinson said. “Research proves that their vocabulary is superior to those who have not had this experience. And, it is all because someone created a reading opportunity for the mother and child. You have infused an activity that would last a lifetime. It’s a program we don’t want to lose because it makes a difference.”