Opinion Columns & Blogs

Sherida Brannan: Ferst Focus - 10 key statistics

If you could change the direction of a child's life for $36, and the change in direction was a positive one, would you be willing to invest in that child's future?

Did you know that the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy has been working to impact the direction of more than 2,000 local children's lives for the past three years?

I learned this after agreeing to serve on the local board, or Community Action Team, for the Ferst Foundation. The local Ferst team has been operating in Columbus for the past three years and has recorded impressive results.

Statewide, the Ferst Foundation has been operating in Georgia since 2000 and has mailed over 4 million books to Georgia children from birth to the age of 5. In Columbus, in the past three years, we have mailed over 60,000 books to children ages 0-5.

Do you know the impact of providing books to young children? Pay attention to these statistics from multiple national studies and consider them:

There is an overwhelming academic consensus that the earliest years of life, from birth to age 5, is the time when a child's brain is undergoing the most growth and development.

The developing brain triples in the first year alone and is virtually fully formed by the time a child enters kindergarten.

The single most significant factor influencing a child's early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school.

Early literacy expert Jeff McQuillan's belief is that the only behavior measure that correlates significantly with reading scores is the number of books in the home. An analysis of a national data set of nearly 100,000 U.S. school children found that access to printed materials is the "critical variable affecting reading acquisition."

In middle-income neighborhoods the ratio of books per child is 13 to 1; in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children.

The most successful way to improve the reading achievement of low-income children is to increase their access to print.

Creating a steady stream of new, age-appropriate books has been shown to nearly triple interest in reading within months.

According to a national longitudinal analysis by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), economically disadvantaged children may know only one or two letters of the alphabet when entering kindergarten, while children in the middle class will know all 26.

Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare.

Children who have not already developed some basic literacy practices when they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out in later years.

Those statistics explain why Ferst Foundation does what it does. We mail age-appropriate books into the homes of children on a monthly basis, free of charge to the families, until a registered child turns 5 years old and "graduates" to kindergarten. The cost to our sponsors is only $36 per child per year. Our library of books is available to view on the Ferst website.

We couldn't do this without the support of our community. We want to thank our corporate, foundation, and organization sponsors from 2014: Aflac, Synovus, SunTrust, Childcare Network, the Bradley Turner Foundation, John P. And Dorothy S. Illges Foundation, the Exchange Club of Columbus, St. Luke School's First Grade Chapel Change Ministry, the Walter Alan Richards Foundation, the Family Center, and the Wilbur H. Glenn Family Fund.

We also want to thank the more than 100 individuals who chose to support us in 2014. In all we raised over $73,000 in 2014, which is enough to continue to support more than 2,000 children per year. However, we'd love to expand that number to be able include more of Columbus' 14,000 children under 5 years old.

A favorite quote from Gandhi: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." By providing these books, you can be the change that makes a world of difference in the lives of these children.

As we look at our efforts in 2015, we have been blessed to have a communications intern assigned from CSU's Communications and PR department, and we will be even more visible in providing and supporting early childhood literacy initiatives in the community. If you'd like to help, donations can be made online at www.ferstfoundation.com or to our local PO Box 4605, Columbus, GA 31914.

Sherida Brannan, a retired Muscogee County teacher, serves on the Ferst Foundation's Community Action Team for Columbus.