A program designed to help promote reading among young children — as well as encourage parents to get their children in for pediatric well visits — is coming to the Boro.
Reach Out and Read Georgia, affiliated with Reach Out and Read National, currently has 170 sites in 72 counties in Georgia, with a new site opening in Bulloch County after the first of the year. Statesboro Pediatrics and Family Health Care is partnering with ROAR to provide books to children from infant through 5 years old.
Currently, there are two existing sites nearby: Savannah Pediatrics and Pediatric Associates of Savannah.
The program works by training physicians and their staff to provide an environment where children are given the opportunity to choose a book to take home with them during their well visit. In turn, the physician can use the interaction of parent and child with books to assess where the child is developmentally and help the parent as well.
ROAR started in 1989 at the Boston Medical Center, and the first program in Georgia began 25 years ago at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding. About 10 years ago, the United Way of Greater Atlanta, together with the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, funded the opening of the Georgia affiliate office, and Amy Erickson was hired as the executive director 10 years ago. The program has grown exponentially since then.
In the past year, ROAR has helped to facilitate 352,433 well visit checkups for children through age 5, and 187,373 books have been distributed. This means that there is a 53% book distribution rate. Erickson says they aim to get that percentage up to 100%.
Since 2000, there have been 3,143,991 well visits across the state of Georgia, with 2,468,521 books distributed. The two sites in Pooler have distributed 46,126 books so far.
“There is strong demand for the program and books are a recurring expense sustaining our growth, and continuing to expand to train more pediatricians is an ongoing challenge,” she said. “We are seeking to become a line item in the state budget to help us reach these goals and for long-term sustainability we believe this is an investment our state representatives need to get behind.”
Erickson is a former Bulloch County resident, and says she is well aware that there is need for a program such as this in the area.
“It may have been knowing that the third grade reading scores were very low, that there is great need in Bulloch County,” she said of her desire to bring ROAR to the Boro. She added that she wants to see all children in Bulloch County reading on grade level by third grade. “I’m excited that we’ve made a little progress toward that happening.”
ROAR has partnered locally with Books A Million in Statesboro. Local residents can purchase children’s books at the store, and they will be collected there to be provided to participating physicians’ offices. Donations made currently would be taken to the two Pooler sites; after the first of the year, the donations would go to Statesboro Pediatrics and Family Health Care, located on Brampton Avenue.
Erickson says the program is making an impact all over the country, and all over the state of Georgia. There are 25 studies, she said, that show that children who have benefitted from the ROAR program arrive to kindergarten with up to a six-month developmental edge.
ROAR Georgia is currently working, in celebration of their 25th anniversary, to raise funds to purchase 352,433 books for the program. Erickson says donations on Giving Tuesday/Georgia Gives Day, on Nov. 28, would be greatly appreciated.
“My dream is that in Georgia, every child in the state, when they go to their pediatric office, they’re served by a pediatrician who has been trained in the Reach Out and Read program,” she said.
If you’d like to get involved, you can go online at reachoutandread.org/Georgia to donate, and learn more about the program. You can also follow them on Facebook: @reachoutandreadgeorgia.