The PNC Foundation and Webster University announced a two-year “Mind Full of Words” program to help build vocabulary for children living in lower-income areas of University City and south St. Louis City. The initiative is backed by a $1 million grant from the PNC Foundation and involves libraries, pediatricians, schools and daycares and several literacy and early learning agencies.
According to a Webster press release, research shows that by age 3, children from low-income families are hearing 30 million fewer words than those from higher-income families. This delay in vocabulary development puts children at an academic disadvantage before they start kindergarten.
Webster University’s Gateway campus in the Arcade Building downtown welcomed children from the Julia Goldstein Early Childhood Center and the Carondelet Leadership Academy while they participated in the different components of the program geared to change the statistics.
Brenda Fyfe, dean of the college of education said Webster is the lead for the program being initiated in St. Louis.
“Webster will drive the project with the involvement of students and faculty who will collaborate with five other partners to complement and expand their services and study the impact on children,” Fyfe said. “The intent is to involve and network child care providers, community librarians, university students, health care providers, and parents to grow healthy, well-developed young children, by specifically supporting vocabulary development.
Partners will include: Reach Out and Read, St. Louis Public Library, The University City School District, St. Louis Teachers Recycling Center and Gateway Media Literacy Partners.
As part of the program 16 area Reach Out and Read pediatricians and health care staff have been recruited by Cardinal Glennon to support language development by discussing with parents at well-child visits about the importance of talking with and reading to their children.
Dr. Ken Haller is a pediatrician at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon. Haller said investing in early literacy positively impacts not only the young children, but also bolsters their families, neighborhoods and our region.
“Words matter,” Haller said. “This program will both pay long-term economic dividends and begin to close the opportunity gap in St. Louis.”
Other partners in attendance was the St. Louis Teachers Recycling Center. TRC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping materials out of landfills and putting them in the hands of children, teachers, artists and others for creative and intellectual development.
The recycled shoe boxes given to the children in attendance will be used to start “word banks” in which children in the neighborhoods will be encouraged to collect new words during their daily experiences.
Michael Sculley is the PNC regional president for St. Louis. In a recent press release Sculley spoke about how vocabulary and success go hand in hand.
“Words unlock success for children,” Sculley said.
It is expected to reach about 2,000 children living in northern University City and in the Carondelet neighborhood of St. Louis.