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Closing the 30 Million Word Gap for CT Non-readers

September 15, 2010

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. - New Britain holds an unenviable record -- its third graders have scored at the bottom on state reading tests in three of the past four years. But the city just launched a campaign for grade level reading that's unique in the country. Merrill Gay, executive director of the New Britain Early Childhood Collaborative says the city will use $325,000 from several private foundations plus $150,000 from the state Department of Education to get the ball rolling.

"What this campaign is really about is marshaling the resources of the community around the goal that we get all of our children reading well by the end of third grade."

He notes New Britain has a high proportion of poor families as well as immigrant families where English is not spoken at home, which makes taking tests in English especially difficult. Spanish is the most common second language, and Arabic is next. And, Gay says there's an important connection between hearing words and learning to read.

"Some children are starting preschool having heard 30 million more words than their classmates, and that is from being in families where parents talk to their children a lot."

He adds the community-wide effort will begin with encouraging parents to speak to their babies and to get out this message:

"You need to talk to your children as much as possible, that you are your child's first teacher, and talking is teaching. You're teaching language."

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT