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Getting babies ready for kindergarten

University of the Pacific, community partners launch program to help parents nurture pre-reading skills at home
May 15, 2015

Helping young children grow up to be strong readers starts simply: with songs and stories. 

Through San Joaquin Reads, a new early literacy effort of University of the Pacific's Beyond Our Gates initiative, more than a dozen community partners are collaborating to help parents and other caregivers develop the confidence and skills they need to support children's literacy development through everyday activities - by talking, singing, reading, writing and playing.

The effort began this spring with training for 40 community leaders and continues this week with a workshop for teen parents. Additional workshops for parents and caregivers, along with a public service campaign, will take place over the summer. "Parents know how important reading is to their children's education, but many believe that learning to read doesn't begin until kindergarten," said Jennifer Torres Siders, community relations director at Pacific. "In fact, children begin developing the skills it takes to become good readers in the infant, toddler and preschool years. Parents can play a critical role in laying a strong foundation for literacy development - and it doesn't take extensive training or expensive equipment."

In San Joaquin County, where only 34 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool, efforts to ensure children are well prepared for kindergarten success hinge on parent engagement. But while parents and caregivers may want to support early learning, many might not know exactly how. For example, among Stockton-area parents of children ages 5 and younger, only half say they read to their children daily. A growing body of research suggests that children whose parents talk, read and sing to them start kindergarten with rich vocabularies and a solid understanding of how language works - both of which are important when learning to read. According to one study, children from low-income families hear, on average, 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers by the time they reach age 4. When it comes to literacy, they've fallen behind even before kindergarten starts.

The San Joaquin Reads initiative is based on a curriculum co-written for the American Library Association by Susan Neuman, an early literacy expert and alumna of Pacific's Gladys L. Benerd School of Education. Through interactive workshops, the curriculum teaches parents and other caregivers - such as grandparents, aunts and uncles - simple things they can do every day to support early literacy development.

Pacific hosted a free training on the curriculum earlier this spring for 40 community leaders representing 16 different agencies and programs from throughout the county. Now those groups are ready to lead their own parent-child workshops.

"The young parents we work with want their children to have the very best educational start, but they're looking for some guidance to understand what they should be doing to help their infants and toddlers learn and grow," said Shelly Contreras, a teacher with the San Joaquin County Office of Education's one.Choice school.

The school serves teen parents and will host its first literacy workshop at 9 a.m. Friday, May 15. "We look forward to empowering them with the tools they need to be their children's first and most important teachers."

As more parent-child literacy workshops get under way, Pacific and its Beyond Our Gates partners will reinforce the importance of talking, singing, reading, writing and playing with children through a public awareness campaign. The campaign will be launched in June with a series of billboards co-sponsored by the Stockton Unified School District.

The ability to read proficiently by the end of third grade is a critical indicator of a child's future educational success. Research shows that children who aren't strong readers when they leave third grade fall behind -  and many of them never catch up. Unfortunately, last year in San Joaquin County, fewer than half of third graders were proficient readers.

The problem is serious, but not unsolvable. Through the Beyond Our Gates initiative, Pacific and its local partners are building a collective strategy to improve early literacy in San Joaquin County.

About Beyond Our Gates

Beyond Our Gates represents University of the Pacific's commitment to work with community partners to improve the social and economic health in Stockton and San Joaquin County. University President Pamela A. Eibeck convened a series of public forums in 2010 to discuss the community's most urgent problems and to begin considering solutions. Through these continuing conversations, education emerged as a pressing challenge and the most promising means of enhancing quality of life. Beyond Our Gates strives to do that through such projects as Reading By Third, Tomorrow Project academies for elementary and high school students, and through ongoing community engagement via the Beyond Our Gates Community Council. For more information, visit BeyondOurGates.org.

About University of the Pacific

Established in 1851 as the first chartered institution of higher education in California, University of the Pacific prepares students for professional and personal success through rigorous academics, small classes, and a supportive and engaging culture. Widely recognized as one of the most beautiful private university campuses in the West, the Stockton campus offers more than 80 majors in seven schools. The university's distinctive Northern California footprint also includes a campus in San Francisco, home to the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry and new graduate programs in health, food and technology fields, and in Sacramento, home to the Pacific McGeorge School of Law and new graduate programs in health, public policy, and business. For more information, visit www.pacific.edu.

Media contact:

Claudia Morain | cmorain@pacific.edu | 209.946.2313 office | 209.479.9894 cell

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