Going to the Doctor
Five year old Avery wants to be a doctor when she grows up – so she can give books to kids. Avery is a patient of Dr. Mary Ann Woodruff and at every checkup, Avery receives a new book to keep. This is part of a nationwide program called Reach Out and Read which is preparing young children to succeed in school by partnering with doctors to prescribe books and encourage families to read together. At every well-child checkup, from ages six months through five years, doctors give children a new developmentally-appropriate book to take home along with information and advice about the value of reading aloud. The program is an incredibly powerful tool for doctors, children and families.
Reach Out and Read has forever changed well-child checkups in Dr. Woodruff’s office. In her words, “it is at the nexus of healthcare and education.” Research continues to show us the importance of children being read aloud to and the strong connection between books in the home and academic success. When Dr. Woodruff gives a book to a patient she observes – she’s watching to see both the child’s and the parent’s reaction. Her observations tell her a lot about the child’s development. This simple act of giving a child a book opens up a dialogue with parents encouraging them to read aloud, and personalized advice and support for developing early language and literacy skills at home if offered.
Vision and TenacityDr. Woodruff brought Reach Out and Read to her Pediatrics Northwest practice in 2001, but it required vision, tenacity and personal dedication to get the program up and running. In 1998, while on maternity leave, she came across an article about the program. At that time, Reach Out and Read was rapidly growing but there was no Washington state chapter to help with funding or offer guidance. To get the program off the ground she and her pediatric partner, Dr. Gary Tart, started their own nonprofit and began raising funds. In 2007, Dr. Woodruff worked with another doctor, Dr. Jill Sells, and the Reach Out and Read National Center to launch a state-wide effort in Washington. Dr. Woodruff currently serves as Medical Director for Reach Out and Read Washington State, and Dr. Sells serves as Executive Director. Their enthusiasm and passion for the program have been the catalyst for rapid growth across the state.
The Results Are InReach Out and Read Pierce County is a United Way funded program not only because we want to improve access to books for young children – but because it’s working. During the preschool years, children served by Reach Out and Read score three to six months ahead of their non-Reach Out and Read peers on vocabulary test. Reach Out and Read families read aloud more often and their children enter kindergarten better prepared to succeed, with larger vocabularies and stronger language skills. These early foundational language skills help start children on a path to success when they enter school.
Today Reach Out and Read Washington is in 30 counties, 145 medical practices, endorsed by 1000 medical providers and last year served 86,000 children and families during 157,000 well-child checkups. It sounds pretty impressive (and it is) but there are so many more children who could benefit from this program. Reach Out and Read only serves 20 percent of eligible children in Washington State. In other words, four out of five children are not served. Dr. Woodruff’s vision is for this program to reach all the kids in our state. To get there, it will take additional funding and community support. Reach Out and Read and Pierce County are lucky to have Dr. Woodruff on their team because her passion and enthusiasm for this program is infectious. Whether you have small children or not – this affects us all. We have an opportunity and mechanism for better preparing children to succeed in school and life – let’s help it grow.
Find out more about Reach Out and Read Washington visit www.reachoutreadwa.org
About Doctor Mary Ann Woodruff
Dr. Woodruff and her Pediatrics Northwest colleagues will distribute 10,000 books this year at well-child visits in Pierce County. She has been a Reach Out and Read trainer – giving her an opportunity to share her passion with other doctors, nurses and primary care providers in Washington, Oregon and California. Serving as the current Medical Director for Reach Out and Read Washington state, she helps develop and implement state-wide recruitment and training programs.Dr. Woodruff is a northwest native and has been a pediatrician for nearly 25 years. She received her undergraduate degree from Seattle University, and her M.D. from the University of Washington. She trained in pediatrics in the Bay Area, at Mt. Zion Hospital, Stanford and the University of California San Francisco. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Food Connection Food Bank and the Pierce County Library Foundation, and is the Board President for Friends of Pediatrics Northwest.