We already know poverty is a huge problem in Columbus.
We know that if we could eliminate poverty, we’d have brighter children, not to mention a better-equipped work force, less crime, fewer people in prison, a stronger economy and a whole lot more community pride.
Or we could start by making our children brighter. If we had brighter students, we’d eventually have less poverty, along with more good things and fewer bad things.
But how do we make Columbus children brighter?
Warren Steele has an idea: Give them books as soon as they’re born.
According to the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy, a nonprofit organization that gives away books to Georgia children, 61 percent of low-income families do not have a single piece of reading material suitable for a child.
Because children develop much of their ability to learn by the time they’re 3 years old, they’ll be in an uphill battle for the rest of their lives if they show up to kindergarten without the skills they’d have developed with books and stories.
In fact, some studies show that children who struggle with reading are more likely to end up incarcerated. Some states even plan how many jail cells to build based on the number of third graders who don’t read at their grade level.
And while it’s helpful for parents to talk to newborns, nothing can replace picking up a book and reading aloud.
That’s how children learn to associate sounds with letters and pictures with words. According to the Ferst website, it teaches kids how books work, how to read left to right, and how to turn pages. Not to mention building vocabulary.
That’s why Steele, a retired Aflac executive, is leading the effort to bring free books to Columbus. He’s put up the money to get the first 100 children started and he’ll be holding a meeting at the Columbus Public Library at 4 p.m. Feb. 6 to discuss forming an action team and raising funds.
The program offers children a free book including classics such as “Goodnight Moon” and “Green Eggs and Ham” until they turn 5 years old.
Slightly more than half of the counties in Georgia currently have a Ferst program. Muscogee County does not. Of the five school districts in Muscogee County’s state-designated comparison group with a free book program (Bibb, Chatham, Clarke, Clayton, Dougherty and Richmond), all of them have a higher percentage of impoverished students than we do but only one of them (Richmond) ranked below us in percentage of schools making adequate yearly progress.
Will owning a Dr. Seuss book really make children brighter?
Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and you may, I say.
Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, managing editor/content, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org