What’s in a word? Or more specifically, 30 million words?
A child’s future. Leaders from the PNC Foundation, Skillman Foundation and Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation will unveil a $1.5-million, 2-year collaboration to help build preschool children’s vocabulary in two areas of Detroit.
The Say & Play with Words program will be announced at a news conference Tuesday in Detroit. The idea: Infuse vocabulary and literacy strategies and family service learning into an educational model for families in southwest Detroit and the Brightmoor neighborhood.
It’s estimated that by age 3, children from low-income families are hearing 30 million fewer words than those from higher-income families. And that puts some children at an academic disadvantage before they ever start kindergarten.
“Words unlock success for children,” said Richard DeVore, regional president for Detroit and Southeast Michigan, PNC Bank.
“Some estimates indicate only 15% of Detroit children are kindergarten-ready,” said DeVore, who is also in charge of the PNC Foundation’s activities in the region. “That’s terrible. What kind of life are we setting children up for? How will the city or the region survive without an educated workforce? Quality early childhood learning is not only the smart investment, it’s the right investment.”
The program will be funded by grants of $750,000 from the PNC Foundation, $500,000 from Skillman Foundation and $250,000 from the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation.
Nearly 60% of Brightmoor’s children and 51.5% of children in southwest Detroit live in poverty.
“Importantly, both communities have a number of assets to help make the program a success, such as committed nonprofits and active members of the community,” added DeVore.
Southwest Solutions and Development Centers will be involved and work with the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), a family literacy organization in the effort.
“We know talking to our children is the most effective way to help them develop their vocabulary and close the word gap,” said Sharon Darling, president and founder of NCFL, based in Louisville, Ky.
A multimedia awareness campaign in English, Spanish and Arabic on the importance of words and vocabulary in a child’s life will launch next spring.
EarlyWorks, a Detroit-based strategy and communications firm, has been hired to run the campaign and assist in the effort. They will research and help determine the most effective way to accomplish the project’s goals. The primary audience will be parents and caregivers, and the secondary audience will be local businesses and residents who can help serve as campaign messengers.
Approximately 75,000 people reside in the southwest Detroit and the Brightmoor neighborhood.
“Our goal is to improve the well-being of Detroit’s children,” said Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation.
“The Fisher Foundation is committed to working alongside families in their efforts to make sure they have the skills and resources needed to be strong advocates for their child’s learning,” said Douglas Bitonti Stewart, executive director of the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation.
The PNC Foundation receives funding from the PNC Financial Services Group. Through its Grow Up Great initiative, which began in 2004, PNC has created a $350-million initiative to help prepare children for success in school and life. The Say & Play with Words program is an extension of that effort.
The Skillman Foundation is a private philanthropy created in 1960 to improve graduation rates and situations of young people in metro Detroit.
The Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation was formed in 1955 and is grounded in the beliefs of its founders and the family’s Jewish values, that life’s purpose is found in service to others.