Kansas City on Monday lined up its first array of agencies committed to spreading the word of the city’s early childhood learning campaign, “Talk, Read, Play.”
But anyone can join this cause.
The Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, the director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, showed one way to the crowd gathered at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center for a child literacy call to arms.
Her grandmother had playfully used the idea of a reading race to get her to pull out one of her picture books. Their eyes would dart quickly over the words as the pages flipped by, and her grandmother invariably would let her win. Then she would ask her to tell about what she read.
“It wasn’t until I was 11 years old that I learned that my grandmother didn’t know how to read,” Girton-Mitchell said.
But she said her grandmother knew then what Kansas City and other communities seem to understand now more than ever: Children need to be absorbing words as much as we can give them from the moment they are born.
The Family Conservancy’s “Talk, Read, Play” initiative, taken citywide, aims to get all parents and whole families interacting constantly with children with enriching language that is a critical foundation in the city’s quest to get all children reading at grade level by the third grade.
Mayor Sly James said early education is the “No. 1 economic development strategy, the No. 1 poverty-release strategy and the No. 1 job strategy we can ever have.”
Representatives from 64 organizations joined the conversation with federal, state and local leaders to expand a strategy that seeks to counteract the language and vocabulary deficits that disproportionately affect low-income children as they enter kindergarten.
The summit featured the commitments of many of the organizations as a launching point. “We’re not here to just talk. We’re here to get things done,” James said.
They talked of strategies for spreading the message deep into all neighborhoods and scattering it with books and materials to help families.
The first commitments announced were Truman Medical Centers, the Kansas City Public Library, the Mid-Continent Public Library, the Local Investment Commission and St. Luke’s Crittenton Children’s Center.
“It’s clear we know what needs to be done,” James said. “It’s clear we’re not getting enough done. We need to work harder.”