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Reaching Out for Reading
Newly endowed fund honors Susan Cooley King and supports childhood literacy
For more than a decade, Susan Cooley King, Ph.D., worked to sway parents and pediatricians that reading plays an important role in a child's development.
Although she has now retired, her successful efforts to establish Reach Out and Read programs across Texas with the mission of making early literacy a standard part of pediatric medical exams will continue with help from the new Susan Cooley King Pediatric Literacy Fund.
Reach Out and Read is a national effort that trains pediatricians to prescribe for parents to read to their children every day and gives a new book to the child at each of 10 well-baby visits between 6 months and 5 years. Reach Out and Read-Texas (ROR-TX), the statewide coalition King led to promote and sustain the program in Texas, is a program of Children's Learning Institute, which is affiliated with The University of Texas Medical School at Houston's Department of Pediatrics.
With the help of generous donors, James T. Willerson, M.D., health science center president, established the endowed fund to ensure that King's work on behalf of ROR-TX continues, and to pay homage to King's 32 years of service to the health science center and to Texas children. King, who retired in February as project director of ROR-TX, was an assistant professor of pediatrics with UT Medical School and a pediatric nurse practitioner.
"I was surprised and honored when I received a letter from Dr. Willerson telling me that a pediatric literacy fund had been established in my name, and I was stunned at the list of my friends who contributed," King said. "This is absolutely wonderful because it means that ROR-TX will have books for years to come. I am thrilled!"
A Fitting Tribute
Among the donors to the fund were longtime UT Health Science Center supporters, Charles and Judy Tate
"Charles and I were so happy to have the opportunity to honor Susan," said Judy Tate. "Susan is passionate about improving the lives of others and has worked tirelessly to promote literacy in young children. What a fitting tribute for a very special friend!"
King has garnered many supporters of her work throughout the years, but one person in particular has been cheering her on from the very beginning.
"Establishment of a fund in Susan's honor gives me great satisfaction," said renowned heart surgeon and King's father, Denton Cooley, M.D., president and founder of the Texas Heart Institute and UT clinical professor of cardiothoracic and vascular surgery. "She has devoted so much effort and time into improving and encouraging reading for children. She contacted many pediatricians, schools and teachers for this pro-gram, and it should have a lasting effect on our children for generations to come."
Money from the Susan Cooley King Pediatric Literacy Fund will be used to purchase and distribute early children's books to pediatric clinics across Texas.
Critical for Building the Program
"One of the most critical components of the Reach Out and Read program is having adequate numbers of high-quality books for the program in the greater Houston area, as well as across the state," said Susan Landry, Ph.D., director of Children's Learning Institute. "The goal of ROR-TX also is to keep building capacity with more and more clinics and pediatric practices that have this program.
"This fund is wonderful for allowing us to build this program and make sure the families have the books that we know are so important for children's language development and cognitive and social skills," added Landry, who also is the Michael Matthew Knight Memorial Professor of Pediatrics.
King read about ROR in an American Academy of Pediatrics journal in 1994. Excited by the program's purpose, she and co-worker Paige Atkinson wrote a successful grant that launched the literacy program at the UT Women, Infants and Children Well Baby Clinic in Spring Branch, where they worked as pediatric nurse practitioners (Atkinson died July 19, 2007).
"It took off like hotcakes," King said of the state's first ROR program. "I realized the power of it because every-one was crazy about it - the medical students, the residents, the doctors, the nurses and the patients. It turned out that it was really an important thing to continue."
Reaches 350,000 Children a Year
Today, there are 190 ROR programs in pediatric practices, children's hospitals and community health centers in Texas, and the statewide initiative reaches 350,000 children a year.
As director of ROR-TX, King traveled across the state to promote the program, fundraise, and pro-vide the necessary training to doctors and their staff. Her original goal was to recruit 20 new ROR programs annually. In the first year alone, she recruited 75.
"Susan was fearless in the way she went about establishing programs across the state," said Kim Anderson, new director of ROR-TX. "She was never afraid to go into areas that she didn't know. Her passion for the program sparked the grassroots efforts that sprang up all across the state. At the national level, she is absolutely regarded as setting some very high standards in how the different states run their programs."
Teaching tools that ROR-TX developed to guide doctors, staff and volunteers have been adopted by the national program. "I think that is probably the biggest contribution ROR-TX has done for the national program," King said.
Because it is affiliated with UT Medical School, ROR-TX also began training programs for medical students and residents.
"That's been our strategy," King said. "Train the residents and medical students, so that it becomes part of their standard practice, and they take it with them into practice."
King said Reach Out and Read is about health. "Learning to read is an important predictor of health and well-being," she said. "Being ready for school is an important precursor of eventual health and well-being.
"We are not teaching parents to teach their children to read," King continued. "We are teaching parents the importance of reading to their children, so that children have an enjoyment of books."
By Camille Webb for Institutional Advancement
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