AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day
When it's time to go home and begin their lives, babies born in hospitals throughout Connecticut—including New London's Lawrence & Memorial—will do so armed with their first defense against illiteracy: a book, provided by Read to Grow, a nonprofit, statewide early literacy program.
Read to Grow knows that the more infants the program reaches, the more impact it will make on increasing literacy, and as a result, greater success in all aspects of life for the next generations of Connecticut.
At a luncheon held in New Haven on Sept. 20, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Marna Borgstrom, president and CEO of Yale New Haven Hospital—where Read to Grow was launched in 1999—discussed the impact of literacy on poverty and health with Read to Grow's founder, Roxanne Coady.
In her introductory remarks Coady gave the good news and the bad news.
"The good news," she said, "is we're here to celebrate all that Read to Grow, Governor Malloy, and Yale-New Haven Hospital under Marna Borgstrom's leadership are doing to fundamentally change the lives of our neediest children and families.
"The bad news," she continued, "is that one third of the children in our big cities are in poverty; 40 percent of children in low income families drop out of high school; Connecticut has the largest academic achievement gap in the country; and one of the major contributors to poverty is reading significantly below grade level in fourth grade."
Borgstrom introduced Malloy, noting that "thanks to the governor's focus on and commitment to comprehensive education reform, legislation was passed and signed into law this past year that includes the K-3 literacy initiative offering an innovative reading intervention program."
This legislation is so important, Borgstrom said, "because low literacy rates directly impact poverty, health and well-being. An estimated 43 percent of those with the lowest levels—Level 1 literacy—live in poverty compared to only 4 percent of those with Level 5 literacy."
In response to Coady's question, "What is the state doing to improve early childhood education?" Malloy said, "Just about everything," and more specifically, that he plans to concentrate on the 750 schools in the 31 low-performing districts (including schools in New London) that educate 41 percent of students and employ 38 percent of all teachers.
"The emphasis to a great extent is on early literacy acquisition," he said. "We need to do what's necessary to make improvements. There is at least one outstanding school in every one of the low performing school districts. We can replicate that. If we can address it, we can (do something about) it."
Malloy said that part of his passion for education reform is personal.
"I grew up with severe learning disabilities and physical disabilities, and I have a special appreciation of what it is to miss out on opportunities and then play catch up."
Malloy described a universal access to preschool program he created while mayor of Stamford.
"Ultimately we have to build on that kind of program in Connecticut," he said, "and be sure no one is denied an education due to their parents' financial situation."
He thanked Read to Grow for what it's doing to promote early literacy but stressed, "We have to hold elected officials accountable for results—not just access to a quality education, but a quality education—holding people accountable makes sure they do their jobs."
In presenting Gov. Malloy with the 2012 Read to Grow Leadership Award, Coady said, "We are incredibly fortunate that we have a governor who immediately took on the political hot potato of education reform and with his wisdom and commitment managed to get Public Act 116—An Act Concerning Education Reform—to pass."
She finished by telling the audience that she wanted to leave them with two reasons to support Read to Grow's ability to reach more families:
"One is purely economic. High school dropouts cost our Connecticut economy $4 billion over their lifetimes in potential economic benefit from lost income tax and social welfare programs—our program costs $30 per child to begin them on this journey or we can pay the huge cost-economic and civic—after the damage is done."
The other reason, she stated was, "We have a responsibility. Last week I attended an Education Reform conference in Boston, and as my taxi passed the Boston Public Library, I looked up and saw engraved on the façade this quote: 'The Commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty.'"