Joan Connery, a retired reading specialist and literacy director in Rhode Island public schools, along with staff professionals at the Hasbro Children's Hospital in urban Providence, RI, developed the Read To Me literacy program in 1993 for children at Hasbro's Pediatric Clinic. The program is designed to foster an interest in reading for children, increase parent awareness of the importance of reading aloud to their children and provide an opportunity for the pediatrician to stress the importance of reading for child's overall health and well-being.
Ms.Connery believes that reading to children is the single most important activity needed to prepare children to read. In order to keep children from reading below grade level, Ms.Connery and the staff of the clinic have organized activities including: volunteers reading aloud to children while they wait for their appointment; talking to parents about the benefits of reading aloud, pediatricians sending books home with children; and referring parents unsure of their own reading skills to literacy programs.
The volunteers come from all ethnic backgrounds and are recruited and trained by Ms. Connery. More than 150 people from the hospital staff and the local community, including many senior citizens, volunteer for the program. A research portion of this program conducted by a Hasbro pediatrician shows a definite increase in the number of books in the children's homes, a rise in the number of low-income and bi-lingual parents who read to their children on a regular basis, and an increase in the number of those who have obtained library cards and take their children to the public library.
The Read To Me program is funded by grants from Reading is Fundamental, the Brad Faxon/Billy Andrade Foundation, the Feinstein Program, and JC Penney. The program also receives private donations. Books are donated or purchased with available funds. Connery meets weekly with volunteers and promotes the program through the Rhode Island Reading Council. The program has been used as a model for other hospital communities.