Among the myriad challenges families face during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the severe impact to early childhood and adult English literacy education could have a lasting economic and public health impact. To help address this important social determinant of health, Literacy Partners and the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone have partnered with Reach Out and Read of Greater New York, the Brooklyn Public Library, and MetroPlus Health to host a special Early Literacy Parking Lot Pop-Up event.
“Literacy and language proficiency are continually cited as a barrier to economic success and overall health and wellness,” says Larry K. McReynolds, executive director of the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone. “This incredible nonprofit partnership provides a critical educational resource at no cost during a time when every little bit of support can make a big difference.”
In March, Literacy Partners’ English for Parents classes at the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone had to close their doors as New York City began following stay-at-home orders. While the classes were restarted online just days later, and classes continued to grow with referrals from Family Health Centers at NYU Langone locations, Literacy Partners was faced with a new problem: how to safely put books in the hands of children during the pandemic.
Literacy Partners’ English for Parents program is unique in that it builds the language capacity of parents so they can support the early literacy of their children—and books are a big part of that. Enter Reach Out and Read of Greater New York, an organization that provides free developmentally appropriate books to children and early literacy guidance to parents during well-child doctor visits. Reach Out and Read partners with more than 230 pediatric office locations across the region—including the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone—to serve more than 250,000 children annually, but with most families using telehealth during the stay-at-home orders, they were looking for a new way to reach families during the ongoing pandemic.
Combining efforts, Literacy Partners and Reach Out and Read developed a new way to distribute children’s books to families in their programs—Early Literacy Parking Lot Pop-Ups—to ensure that all children have access to physical books during this unprecedented time, no matter if they are seeing their pediatricians and teachers in person or virtually.
The premiere event was held November 17 at the Family Support Center in Sunset Park, part of the Community-Based Programs—Family Health Centers at NYU Langone, and followed safety and social distancing protocols. Families who participate in Literacy Partners and Family Support Center programs received a custom bundle of books from Literacy Partners and Reach Out and Read. They also received early literacy kits from the Brooklyn Public Library, book bags and blankets from MetroPlus Health, and information about childhood immunizations, family literacy, and nutrition support programs from the Family Health Centers and NYU Langone. This was the first such event, but Literacy Partners plans to “pop up” in partner clinic parking lots in each of New York City’s five boroughs.
“We’re proud to partner in providing books and critical early literacy resources to children and families in New York. The community has been resilient and strong in battling this crisis, and we are committed to supporting their tremendous efforts,” says Emily Marchese, executive director of Reach Out and Read of Greater New York.
Literacy Partners is part of a city-wide movement, supported by the United Hospital Fund and the O’Neill Foundation, which uses a two-generation approach to increase school readiness and wellness in young children by building the health and language literacy of adults.
“This is the goal of Literacy Partners,” says Anthony Tassi, CEO of Literacy Partners. “We provide free literacy and language resources to parents, so they can play a more active role in their child’s education and medical appointments.”
Last year, Literacy Partners worked with doctors at Family Health Centers at NYU Langone to create a health literacy curriculum for English language learners. Data show that not only did parents in the program increase their English proficiency by one or more levels, but they were more prepared to talk to their child’s doctor during well-child visits. Additionally, the children of parents enrolled in their English for Parents program outperformed their peers in literacy and English language acquisition by 64 percent.
Deborah “DJ” Haffeman