New program to increase vocabulary skills of low-income children in southwest Detroit

October 27th, 2015
Janthonee Edwards and his daughter McKenzie watch the press conference in Detroit announcing the Say & Play with Words program

The PNC Foundation, Skillman Foundation and Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation today announced a $1.5 million, two-year collaboration to build preschool children’s vocabulary in two Detroit neighborhoods. Say & Play with Words (Hablen y Jueguen con Palabras) will infuse vocabulary and literacy strategies and family service learning into a powerful educational model for families in Brightmoor and southwest Detroit, where Southwest Solutions will serve as the community partner to implement the program.

It’s estimated that by age 3 children from low-income families are hearing 30 million fewer words than those from higher-income families. Research shows that vocabulary skills advance children’s cognitive and social learning and a lag in vocabulary development puts children at an academic disadvantage before they start kindergarten. Studies also have indicated vocabulary skills are important in predicting reading development over time.

“Words unlock success for children,” said Ric DeVore, regional president for Detroit and Southeast Michigan, PNC Bank. “The more words they hear before kindergarten, the more success they often achieve. The link between ‘words’ and learning motivated PNC to begin emphasizing developing children’s vocabularies as part of our Grow Up Great early childhood education initiative.”

Detroit is one of 10 cities PNC has selected for its $10 million pilot program to raise awareness and improve vocabulary for low- and moderate-income children.

The National Center for Families Learning, a highly respected national family literacy organization, is leading the project programming with community partners and providing their expertise in literacy and family service learning. Southwest Solutions and Development Centers will serve several hundred children and families with programming and support of the overall initiative. Leaders from Congress of Communities and Brightmoor Alliance will advise the collaborative’s efforts to reach as many community members as possible.

“We know talking to our children is one of the most effective ways to help them develop their vocabulary,” said Sharon Darling, president and founder, National Center for Families Learning. “This initiative couples an approach that resonates with young learners—teaching vocabulary in a real-world, active context—with family service learning, a cutting-edge strategy for families learning together.”

“Southwest Solutions is very pleased to be a part of the Say & Play initiative as we work collaboratively with our partners to address the 30 million word gap,” said Lynn McGregor, manager of Early Childhood & Family Literacy at Southwest Solutions. “We have enrolled 20 families in our first cohort who are eager to build their children’s vocabularies and to promote a language rich community for their neighbors. Our programming offers families opportunities for meaningful parent-child interactions that support language development and academic success.”
The initiative will engage community leaders to create and maintain word- and print-rich environments that parents and children frequently visit in Brightmoor and southwest Detroit, and will work intensively with families in Brightmoor and southwest Detroit to increase their skills to support their children’s vocabulary development.

“Our goal is to improve the wellbeing of Detroit’s children,” said Tonya Allen, president and CEO, Skillman Foundation. “In Brightmoor and southwest Detroit, young children should receive every opportunity to grow their natural talents with programs like this one. Kids matter here.”

“Words matter,” said Douglas Bitonti Stewart, executive director, Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation. “We know that investing in early literacy positively impacts not only the kids, but their families, communities and society, and will help close the opportunity gap.”

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