Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III holds Christian Rhodes Jr., 1, after the county's Health Department introduced a new program to encourage reading and boost early childhood education at the Cheverly Health Center Atrium May 3. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III holds Christian Rhodes Jr., 1, after the county's Health Department introduced a new program to encourage reading and boost early childhood education at the Cheverly Health Center Atrium May 3. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

Exactly 52 percent of Prince George’s County third-grade students who took the state of Maryland’s PARCC exam for English and language arts last year didn’t meet or partially met expectations on grade-level standards, according to the state Department of Education’s report card.

That’s why several Prince George’s agencies and local health care providers will collaborate to incorporate Smart Start for Babies program. One of the main goals: incorporate a love for reading for children from birth to boost early childhood education.

“In today’s world of cellphones, we need to have kids connected with books,” said Betty Hager Francis, the county’s chief administrative officer for health, human services and education. “It strengthens a bond between parent and child. There’s nothing like reading to your baby.”

With a few babies in attendance Thursday, May 3 at the Cheverly Health Center Atrium, officials briefly explained some of the resources parents can receive.

The county’s Health Department will supply portable cribs for those in need to prevent infant sleep-related deaths.

The county’s Department of Social Services provide parents with information on child care and how to report abuse and neglect.

In connection with the Memorial Library System’s Books from Birth program, children enrolled will receive a free book every month until they turn 5 years old.

If children are registered for the program at birth, a child could receive up to 60 books, said Samuel Epps IV, president of the system’s board of trustees.

“Early literacy is the key to success in schools and in life,” Epps said.

One colorful cloth book three babies waved, read and tapped on showed pictures of farm animals, a tractor and a barn.

“From birth to three years of life, students who are read to will hear 30 million more words than a child who has not,” said Monica Goldson, deputy superintendent for teaching and learning for the school system. “Research shows that one in three students enter our kindergarten doors without the literacy schools needed.”

Nahid Mazarei, a medical doctor at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center in Clinton, said partnerships with nonprofit organizations help patients and even staff. The March of Dimes provides childbirth, breastfeeding and support-group classes at the hospital, Mazarei said.

“You all can come,” she said. “It’s about community.”

County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who is running for Maryland governor, said the next administration can keep the program going after he leaves office.

“When we will talk about how we improve the quality of life in Prince George’s County, it starts early with our youngest — our babies,” he said. “How are we going to improve the numbers for our kids graduating and not dropping out of school? It starts here.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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