Jumpstarting literacy
Reach Out and Read program expands in Durango

Dr. Pakhi Chaudhuri, pediatrician, passes out children’s books to patients Sella, Hadley and Emmet Thompson as part of the Reach Out and Read program. The literacy program is picking up speed in La Plata County, and Chaudhuri’s office has distributed more than 2,500 books in the last five years.   /Photo by Steve Eginoire

by Jen Reeder

"I’m showing the pictures to her!” ann-ounces 4-year-old Hadley Thompson as she turns a page in Ten Little Fingers for her 18-month-old sister, Sella.

“Elephant,” she says, then pretends to have a trunk to help her sister understand.

The sisters weren’t sharing the book at home in a playroom, but in a doctor’s office – Pediatric Associates of Durango, where Dr. Pakhi Chaudhuri had just given Thompson a free copy of the book to read before her checkup. For the last five years, the practice has participated in the Reach Out and Read Colorado program, which distributes free books to children ages 6 months to 5 years during their wellness visits.

“We promote reading from an early age, since early reading promotes literacy – even if ‘reading’ is eating the book,” Chaudhuri says.

Participating in the Reach Out and Read program has certainly helped with that goal. The office has given away more than 2,500 new books to children in the last five years.

“And that’s not counting how many used books we’ve given out too,” says Amanda Harrison, an RN with Pediatric Associates. The office also has a book exchange in the reading room where kids can wait for their appointment with a book. Children can take home any books they like.

Feedback about the program has been “awesome,” Harrison says – though as Thompson continues to read to her little sister, she looks up from her new book to explain, “I’m pretending it’s a computer” as the adults groan through their laughter.

Mary Vozar, Southwest Regional Coordinator for Reach Out and Read Colorado, says giving away books to children at doctors’ offices, and asking parents to read with their kids, encourages family literacy.

“There have been lots and lots of studies that show children learn by modeling, so if parents are reading in the home and parents are reading to their children, they’re setting the stage for them to learn,” Vozar says. “It’s amazing how much they can improve their kids’ vocabularies by the time they enter kindergarten.”

Reach Out and Read Colorado is a nonprofit that is part of the national Reach Out and Read program. The 150 participating clinics in 47 counties distribute an average of 140,000 books to more than 92,000 children each year, and reach 61 percent of the state’s children living in poverty.

“And it’s growing,” Vozar says. “Isn’t that amazing?”

Part of that growth is happening here: Durango will soon be home to another local Reach Out and Read program. Vozar came to Durango last week to meet with representatives from the Nurse-Family Partnership, a nonprofit with a local office at San Juan Basin Health. Nurses with the organization visit first-time mothers from pregnancy through the first two years of their child’s life, providing care and support to promote healthy babies. Since the nurses already encourage moms to read to their children even in utero, applying to participate in Reach Out and Read was a natural choice, according to Shalley Parmenter, a nurse home visitor for the partnership.

“It’s going to enhance what we do. It’s a great philosophy: Every child has an opportunity to own a book. It’s a thing a lot of us take for granted,” Parmenter says.

“And it’s more than just reading – it’s one-on-one time. It’s nice to slow down and share a book with your child.” Vozar says it is exciting to expand in Durango, and that she also has interest from a clinic in Ignacio and hopes to add programs there as well. Meanwhile, Harrison hopes to expand the program at Pediatric Associates of Durango to include volunteers who read to kids in the waiting room, which is part of the national model. She says people interested in volunteering – or donating books – can contact the clinic. “Book donations are always welcome,” she adds. Book donations help cover the 10 percent of the book budget not covered by the Reach Out and Read program. The national program provides 25 percent of a clinic’s book budget. In states without a statewide branch, or “coalition,” that means they still need to find another 75 percent of books through private donations from libraries, bookstores and individuals. But in Colorado, the coalition provides an additional 65 percent of the book budget, so clinics only need that extra 10 percent of book donations. Additionally, Native American clinics receive 100 percent of their book budget.

Vozar says getting kids reading books will help them succeed in school. To instill a love of reading, it helps to find a topic or genre that appeals to them.

“As a former librarian, I can tell you that the key is interest. If kids can find something that they’re interested in reading about, you can’t stop them from reading.”

To volunteer or donate books to the Reach Out and Read program at Pediatric Associates of Durango, call 259-7337. For more information about Reach Out and Read Colorado, visit www.reachoutandreadco.org.



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