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September 4, 2014 - Benefit of USA Children's Clinic Reading Program Validated Through New AAP Policy
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Cheyenne Gray, 8, and her mother Tiffany talk with Dr. Cindy Sheets about the book Cheyenne picked out at USA Children's Medical Center. Through the Reach Out and Read program, the USA Children's Medical Clinic has been promoting early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud for close to a decade.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released a new policy promoting early literacy as an essential component of primary care visits, the first time they have adopted official policy on the issue. 

This announcement was part of a new initiative involving the AAP, Too Small to Fail, Scholastic, and Reach Out and Read to raise awareness among parents about reading aloud and early language development. 

While the policy might be new, the practice of promoting literacy at USA Children’s Medical Clinic through its Reach Out and Read program is nearly a decade old. The program promotes early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud. 

Last year, the program at USA gave out a total of 9,000 books to young patients.

According to Dr. Cindy Sheets, who heads up the nine-year old program, brand new books are given out during a child’s checkup at the USA Children’s Medical Center and USA Midtown Pediatrics starting at the age of two months until five years of age. New and gently-used books are given out at well visits and most sick visits for children over five years. Books are also distributed to older children at USA’s Adolescent Clinic. 

“Many of these kids have chaotic home lives. Some come from homes where there are few books or an environment where books are just not important,” said Dr. Sheets. “Having books and having parents read to their children encourages a love of reading and fosters togetherness between parent and child.” 

In the past year, the program gave out 4,500 books to the target younger age group at well visits, and an additional 4,500 to older children and at sick visits. Books are also available in the clinic’s waiting and exam rooms.

The books come from a variety of sources including children’s book publisher Scholastic, which provides discounted new books. The non-profit First Book also donates new books for the cost of shipping. Additional books are received through area books drives and donations from school libraries. The USA library system’s annual book drive brings in thousands of gently-used books for the program. 

The USA Department of Pediatrics and private donors have provided the funds for the program, which has received an overwhelmingly positive response.

“The parents are tickled with the books,” says Dr. Sheets. “And when the kids who have been there before come in for their checkup they always ask for their new books. That’s very gratifying.”

For information on how to donate books or funds to the program contact Dr. Cindy Sheets at 434-3869 or csheets@health.southalabama.edu.

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