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Building Young Minds – and Brains – With Books

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Book Drive team leaders at Groveland’s Bagnall Elementary School

Elementary School Pupils Team Up With Pediatrics

Groveland’s Bagnall School buzzes with energy that can only be found in an elementary school: Young minds assembling the basic blocks of education and staffers trying to stay one step ahead.

Debbie Gaudreau, Librarian at the Bagnall, is always on the lookout for ways to engage the waves of students that stream into her library with every ring of the bell. Last year she found a beautiful program that combines books, reading and, as it happens, Pentucket Medical’s Haverhill Pediatrics.

“This past Spring I discovered Reach Out and Read program,” she says. “I thought it would be a great project for our 4th Graders. ”

Reach Out and Read brings books into the lives of under-privileged families with very young children, using the authority and influence of pediatric providers to encourage parents to read to their pre-school kids, beginning in infancy.

Multiple studies have shown that reading to children – starting as early as when they are newborns – is the single most important thing parents can do to prepare them to learn to read.

In her planning for the project, Deb knew that she’d find a welcome partner in Pentucket Medical’s pediatric office. As a librarian, she was aware of Dr. Sherwood Lee’s longstanding interest in promoting reading to children.

As a mother she also knew Dr. Lee, her children having benefited from his care and guidance.

“More than 30 years ago,” she explains, “my daughter had a health concern, and Dr. Lee steered us in the right direction, changing the course of her life.”

And so, having her resources lined up, Debbie put the word out to her 4th Graders and with them began to plan a fundraiser. An announcement was made to the whole school, and as the end of the school year approached, students had gathered nearly 700 books.

As contributions came in, the 4th Graders did more than merely pack them into boxes.

“All the books were organized by subject and reading level,” says Debbie. “The kids made charts and graphs to track the results. They estimated that the dollar value of all the books was more than $4000.”

Working with Pentucket’s Haverhill Site Manager Kathy White, the books began arriving at Pediatrics in June, with medical staff giving them in turn to financially challenged families of pre-school children. By summer’s end, every book had been distributed.

Dr. Lee says that many children grow up in homes without books, and that encouraging parents to read to their children is vitally important.

“First of all it strengthens the bond between parent and child,” he says. “There are numerous studies showing important developmental benefits to children who are read to. It gives them a view of the world that they might not otherwise receive.”

Reach Out and Read was founded in 1989, with its first program at Boston City Hospital. By 2001, the program had spread to all 50 states, with almost 1,500 sites distributing 1.6 million books per year. Today, Reach Out and Read partners with more than 5,500 program sites and distributes 6.5 million books per year. The program currently serves one in five children living in poverty in this country, and continues to grow each year. The vision is that one day the Reach Out and Read model will be a part of every young child’s checkups.

That is only possible if there are books to distribute, which is why Dr. Lee is grateful for the efforts of Librarian Debbie Gaudreau and her hard working students.

“What’s happened,” he says, “is that government funding has been squeezed. It’s wonderful that the Bagnall School put this program together.”

“There is no question that the people who become successful in life are readers,” he says. “The active aspect of reading, as opposed to staring at a screen, provides lifelong benefits to readers.

It’s all a matter of getting children used to having books.”