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Community resources help children succeed

Karin Mahony

Sometimes school just isn’t enough to provide the resources children need. Madison community organizations are helping these children succeed, each in its own way.

Reach Out and Read relies on books to make a difference. The program collaborates with 116 clinics in Wisconsin. Children up to five years old receive a book during each well-child visit. The pediatrician then teaches the parents how to read with their children. But reading is only the first step.

“This is not a reading program,” says Karin Mahony, the Project Manager of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. “Clinicians use the book as a developmental surveillance tool.”

The clinician learns a lot about each child by the way he or she interacts with the book. Page turning and looking at the pictures, for example, assess fine motor skills and vision.

Reading also promotes language skills. These language skills lag without exposure to books. Multiple studies published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that children in Reach Out and Read knew and could say more words than children who were not exposed to the program.

Children also need relationships, the kind being built by the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. These relationships help children succeed. In Dane County, the mentors, known as “bigs,” must dedicate a minimum of two years to the program. Children, known as “littles,” enter the program between the ages of six and 13. Bigs then engage in activities with their littles.

“We talk to our volunteers about how to talk to their littles about what they’re learning in each activity that they engage in,” Program Director Christina Beach-Baumgartner says. “So it’s very intentional mentoring so that we can set our kids up to achieve success long term.”

More often than not, littles don’t have much one on one attention in their home lives. Adult figures may even come and go.

“Kids can really start to internalize that people are coming and going and that it’s their fault,” says Beach-Baumgartner. “So

Christina Beach
Christina Beach-Baumgartner

when they have a mentor who sticks with them, they can build on the self-confidence that comes from that consistency.”

A 2012 survey showed the beginnings of this long term success. Fifty-eight percent of littles enhanced or retained their academic work.

While specific tools such as relationships and books promote growth, PASS takes a different approach. PASS, Partners for After School Success, works with 13 host sites. As part of AmeriCorps, PASS matches volunteers with these host sites, and all the sites focus on programming for kids.

PASS’s broad scope enriches children as much as possible. Attending programing increased attendance to 90 percent in the 2011-2012 school year.

“We’ve found that a combination of programming seems to be the most effective,” says Connie Bettin, the PASS AmeriCorps Director. “So it’s not all academic or all recreational. It’s a way for kids to get multiple needs met.”

Community organizations come in many forms. As they continue to grow, these organizations constantly look for new ways to help.

“You’re only really limited by your imagination,” says Bettin.

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