Families in one Detroit neighborhood will soon be flooded with books for their youngest children.
As part of a new program that will be officially announced Tuesday at Munger Elementary School on Detroit’s west side, 100 families will receive as many as 100 books each over the next three years to read to their babies and toddlers.
“We’re trying to get at the issue of language development in babies,” said Maura Corrigan, the former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court who has become involved in children’s literacy. “If you wait until three or four years old to start, you’re waiting too long.”
The effort to bring a program called Raising a Reader to families in the neighborhood near Munger is part of a state-wide push to help more children learn to read before a new state law takes effect in 2020 that will force schools to hold back third-graders who aren’t reading at grade level. This year, fewer than 10 percent of Detroit students met that grade-level threshold.
Experts say part of the reason that low-income children struggle to read is because their vocabularies are more limited. Research shows that poor children hear 30 million fewer words by their fourth birthday than their more affluent peers.
Corrigan said she became interested in early childhood literacy while working at a conservative Washington think tank called the American Enterprise Institute.
“I saw that other cities were doing things that Detroit wasn’t,” she said. “There are cities that have linked up hospital systems with schools [to connect children with education from birth] and are doing a better job. I wanted that for Detroit.”
Corrigan helped connect some 15 local organizations to bring Raising a Reader to Detroit. Philanthropists Paul and Amy Blavin are contributing $15,000 to fund a pilot of the program that will serve 100 children for three years, Corrigan said.
A social service organization called Brilliant Detroit is contributing support.
The program, which will send families home with weekly backpacks full of books and provide them with guidance for how to engage children in discussions about them, will focus initially on families tied to Munger, including children who live nearby and those who have older siblings in the school.
“We’ll be working on providing a pipeline of ready kids” to the school, said Raising A Reader’s Erica Wood. “As they matriculate into pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, they’ll be ready to learn.”