School of Medicine, Twiggs County Schools Receive $20,000 Grant to Support 'Language Nutrition' Project for Local Children

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MACON – Mercer University School of Medicine and Twiggs County Public Schools are collaborating on a project that was recently awarded a $20,000 grant as part of the Early Language and Literacy Mini-Grant Project, a joint initiative of the Governor's Office of Student Achievement and the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy at Georgia College.

One of 48 projects to receive grant awards, the Vitamins Reading and Literacy Project in Twiggs County will increase the “language nutrition” of 2- and 3-year-old siblings of Twiggs County Public School students identified as having literacy challenges. The school district will select a minimum of 10 families to participate in the two-year project.

Studies show that language-rich adult-child interactions are as critical to a young child's brain development as healthy food is to physical growth. A solid foundation of “language nutrition” can play a critical role in developing a child's social and emotional capacity.

Recent findings indicate that 65 percent of Georgia third-graders lack necessary vocabulary and reading comprehension skills, and one in six Georgia adults have low literacy skills. Adults with low literacy earn 30 percent less than those with a high school diploma and cost the state an estimated $1.26 billion in social services and lost tax revenue annually.

“This is a unique example of our community's efforts to go upstream on tackling literacy in Twiggs County,” said Dr. Keisha R. Callins, obstetrician/gynecologist with Community Health Care Systems and clinical assistant professor at Mercer University School of Medicine. “As a physician and public health professional, literacy is a means to an end for improving health outcomes. I'm ecstatic about the opportunity to strategically focus on education, which impacts income potential and influences our social environment.”

“I am thrilled to be a volunteer part of this project for our Twiggs County community,” added Dr. Sarah Beck Hawthorne, president of AlphaSkills Inc. in Jeffersonville. “It will bring wonderful training for our children and their caregivers, and it has already provided an avenue to bring Dr. Callins to serve the medical needs in our county. Our area is blessed by both the grant and the support from Mercer University School of Medicine.”

Dr. Callins, who was appointed last year by Gov. Nathan Deal to serve on the nine-person board of the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center, and Dr. Hawthorne, a Mercer alumna, met last summer at the inaugural Governor's Summit for Early Language and Literacy. They soon became engaged in an ongoing discussion about ways to support the rural county, especially its youngest citizens.

They identified the Early Language and Literacy Mini-Grant Program, which invests in strategic community partnerships that target language and literacy development needs for children from birth to age 8, as one way to help.

“The Early Language and Literacy Mini-Grant Program recognizes those leading the way in developing new, engaging programs to advance language and literacy skills for Georgia students,” said Gov. Deal. “These grants will provide communities with additional resources to put more students on track to read on grade-level by the third grade. The bright minds of Georgia's students are the state's most precious resource and I commend the educators and community partners working to prepare them for future success.”

Each awarded project is a collaborative effort between at least two community-based partners that focuses on one of the four pillars of the Get Georgia Reading Campaign – language nutrition, access, positive learning climate, and teacher preparation and effectiveness. All four are addressed in the Twiggs County project, with language nutrition being the primary focus.

Applications were received this year for a total of 240 projects. Individual partners within the approved 48 grant projects received between $5,000 and $20,000 to support their roles in the partnership.

About the Mercer University School of Medicine (Macon, Savannah and Columbus)

Mercer University's School of Medicine was established in 1982 to educate physicians and health professionals to meet the primary care and health care needs of rural and medically underserved areas of Georgia. Today, more than 60 percent of graduates currently practice in the state of Georgia, and of those, more than 80 percent are practicing in rural or medically underserved areas of Georgia. Mercer medical students benefit from a problem-based medical education program that provides early patient care experiences. Such an academic environment fosters the early development of clinical problem-solving and instills in each student an awareness of the place of the basic medical sciences in medical practice. The School opened a full four-year campus in Savannah in 2008 at Memorial University Medical Center. In 2012, the School began offering clinical education for third- and fourth-year medical students in Columbus. Following their second year, students participate in core clinical clerkships at the School's primary teaching hospitals: Medical Center, Navicent Health in Macon; Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah; and The Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus. The School also offers master's degrees in family therapy, preclinical sciences and biomedical sciences.

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Kyle Sears