June 9, 2003

New literacy program aimed at

By Alicia Sands Lurry

Ann Hazzard, associate professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine and clinical psychologist at Hughes Spalding Children’s Hospital, is leading an effort to better prepare children at Hughes Spalding for preschool.

The literacy intervention program, known as “Focus On Four,” is designed to introduce 4-year-old children to letters, sounds and books while also pairing them and their families with volunteers for eight weeks. The program will begin in June and target 30 families.

In 1994, Hazzard helped create the Hughes Spalding-based “Ready, Set, Read!” literacy program, along with Emory pediatrician Terri McFadden, and she hopes this new program will reach those youngsters most at risk.

“There are a lot of factors and stressors in low-income families that make children from those families more at risk for school failure,” Hazzard said. “Often by the time a child gets to kindergarten or first grade, an important piece of their brain development has already occurred.”

The program will specifically focus on children with mild learning or language difficulties and those who lack exposure to books and early learning activities.

Hazzard reported a previous study conducted at Hughes Spalding found that many of the children’s parents were rarely read to when they were children themselves. That often is a reason why many have not integrated reading into their children’s lives.

“If listening and hearing the language and words in books and getting excited about books hasn’t happened, it makes it much more challenging for children and their teachers in kindergarten and first grade,” she said. “Pediatricians are the most natural professionals to intervene early and make contact with families. They can play a major role in early intervention by including this part of well-child care in comprehensive pediatric care.”

A screening instrument will be used to help identify 4-year-olds in Hughes Spald-ing’s waiting rooms as they come for appointments. This information will help determine which children are behind in their pre-literacy skills. Volunteers then will meet with families once each week to read to children and engage in many preschool-type literacy activities. The program also aims to help parents enroll their children in preschool and obtain library cards.

“This really emphasizes how Hughes Spalding is supporting and giving back to all of the communities it serves,” said Renee Shields, Ready, Set, Read! coordinator.

“Focus on Four” is sponsored in part by Hughes Spalding with support by the Tiger Woods Foundation, Chick-fil-A Inc., the Community Foundation of Atlanta and the Target Corp.

The Ready, Set, Read! program, designed to encourage parents to read with their children, currently provides free books to about 7,500 children ages six months to 5 years who visit Hughes Spalding’s pediatric clinics.

Community volunteers of all ages are still needed for the Ready, Set, Read! program. For more information or to become a volunteer, please contact Shields at 404-616-6050, or Anita Gardner, volunteer coordinator, at 404-616-5581. The program also accepts new and gently used children’s books.