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PNC , Skillman and Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundations’ $1.5 million investment will help kids learn words for success

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By E. B. Allen

Thirty million.

By almost any standard, the number’s tremendous. In dollars or population statistics, the figure might be particularly staggering, but in words 30 million can mean the difference between a strong start in a child’s life and years of playing catch up in the vital development of reading skills and language.

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So the PNC Foundation, Skillman Foundation and Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation have invested $1.5 million to develop a Detroit initiative in the Southwest and Brightmoor communities to help close what researchers say is a 30-million-word difference between vocabularies spoken in higher-income and lower-income homes of children by age 3.

“You really have to go down to the grassroots level to the parents, to the caregivers, to the neighborhood alliances,” DeVore, PNC Bank’s regional president for Detroit and Southeast Michigan.

The two-year initiative to build Brightmoor and Southwest Detroit preschool children’s vocabulary and reading skills incorporates a Say & Play with Words curriculum and instruction strategy targeting 10 cities.

DeVore says the local initiative is the only one involving collaboration with other foundations  … Skillman and Max M. & Marjorie Fisher … using the skills of those who know the community.

“I really think that if a bunch of professional educators walk into a room like this and get really prescriptive and say, ‘This is how we make this happen,’ it’s not necessarily going to work,” says DeVore. “I get asked a lot why we don’t do this in every neighborhood, but I find that targeting areas is more effective.”

It was key for PNC, Skillman and the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundations to extend their effort into sections of Detroit, like Brightmoor and Southwest, which Skillman identifies as among communities with the largest population of children who could be most positively impacted by Say & Play with Words.

Talking to children is one of the most effective ways to help build their vocabulary to close the 30 million word gap

Talking to children is one of the most effective ways to help build their vocabulary to close the 30 million word gap

Southwest Detroit residents Anna Gonzalez and her son Eduardo, 7, were among families invited to the announcement, which also was attended by representatives of the Brightmoor Alliance, National Center for Families Learning, Skillman and the Congress of Communities.

“We read a lot of books,” Gonzalez says. Eduardo, a two-time student of the month winner at Roberto Clemente Academy, says his current favorite is “Five Little Pumpkins,” which is about pumpkins who visit their neighborhood during Halloween.

The investment will especially benefit Gonzalez’s family because it has a translation curriculum. “It’s going to help us in Spanish and in English,” she says. “We have to be perfect in both languages.”

Christina Mireles, a curriculum facilitator for Southwest Solutions and Toyota, says she looks forward to introducing Say & Play with Words, which incorporates iPad technology, to parents this month.

“This is very gratifying to be given the opportunity to help the parents get more involved with their children’s education,” she says. “We’re role models for others.”

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