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A powerful combination of health and education services gives young children a better start at school.

The school year has begun and nearly 50 million children in the U.S. have returned to class. Roughly 3.5 million children have started school for the first time. Unfortunately, at least a third, more than 1 million, of these children will enter kindergarten without either the cognitive or social-emotional skills necessary to start to learn. Research has shown that children who start school at such a disadvantage struggle to catch up - they are more likely to fail third grade reading tests, and less likely to graduate from high school. Many of these children will grow up to live in poverty.

How can we ensure that children start school ready to learn?

Bringing together the health and education sections of our communities creates a powerful combination. It has the capacity to start early and then continue through a child's education and into adult life. AASA, the School Superintendents Association, an organization focused on providing quality public education for all students, and Reach Out and Read, an early literacy organization that works through pediatric care, both work to help prepare children for school right from the start.aasa

A recent article from the American Academy of Pediatrics' Council of Early Childhood and Council on School Health examined the Pediatrician's Role in Optimizing School Readiness and stated "..within the context of a medical home, which provides compassionate, coordinated, family-centered, accessible, and culturally sensitive care, the pediatrician will have a foremost role in monitoring the critical elements of early experiences that foster school readiness."

In our last blog post, Dr Beth Toolan, a pediatrician at Providence Health Centers, wrote about how, as a Reach Out and Read provider, she talks with parents about the importance of reading aloud to their young children, offering them at least one way of giving their infants, toddlers and preschoolers a better start. "Infancy is such a crucial time," she says "And with the Reach Out and Read Program, I am able to access these families when it matters most."

Melinda Smith, Superintendent of North Providence School Department (RI) has written a companion piece describing how, in North Providence, she has helped to lead a "network of community service partners, health care professionals and local pediatricians" that collectively prepare young children for school. From providing a "Little Lending Library" to serving dinner for young siblings when parents collect their children from school, Supt. Smith illustrates how schools can be a community partner and a resource for children ages birth to five and their families. She says "[I have a responsibility as Superintendent] to ensure that our schools connect with families well before children enter our school system to promote healthy lifestyles, provide access to community resources that will all contribute to the breakdown of the roadblocks to learning and give all children an equal chance at school success."

Written by Reach Out and Read - Communications at 14:24

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