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Bushwick Hospital's Free Tech-Based Literacy Program Starts Kids at Birth

By Meredith Hoffman | August 29, 2013 8:22am
 Aiara Gonzalez, 21, has been using the new Video Interaction Project training with her baby Samaris since her daughter's birth.
Aiara Gonzalez, 21, has been using the new Video Interaction Project training with her baby Samaris since her daughter's birth.
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DNAinfo/Meredith Hoffman

BUSHWICK — When Aiara Gonzalez's friends watch her play with her new baby, they always have the same question:

"They ask me, 'Why do you talk to her if she can't understand?'" said the 21-year-old Bedford-Stuyvesant resident, who gave birth to her daughter Samaris this July at Woodhull Medical Center. "I talk to her, I show her colors...and I speak to her in English and Spanish so she'll learn."

Gonzalez's approach has already helped Samaris be "more alert," and doctors say it sets the girl up for doing far better in school — but the new mom said she never would have known to be so proactive if it weren't for Woodhull's new free literacy program.

The Bushwick hospital just launched a video-based training — called the Video Interaction Project — that will help about of 1,000 parents in the next year kick-start their children's education from birth, the center's director said.

A child development specialist meets with the parent and child each time they come for a check-up, films the pair playing and then shows the video back to the parent, giving feedback on effective ways to interact with the child.

The program, for kids newborn to 5 years old, has already been shown to improve children's language development, problem solving and behavior in two studies conducted at Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital, where the project launched, said Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, who started VIP.

"It has large impacts and a low cost, potentially for all families," said Mendelsohn, an assistant professor at NYU's medical school, of the program that began in April at Woodhull. "We've seen [in the kids] some improvements in IQ and in early reading ability in first grade."

North Brooklyn Councilman Stephen Levin, who helped start the Woodhull program through City Council funds, noted that the trainings promoted "school readiness among kids that need the most help."

"If we can get to kids at birth...that's one way we can make a real impact," Levin said, citing statistics that 88 percent of New York City kids who have reading difficulties in kindergarten continue to be poor readers through fourth grade. "You have to start one child at a time."

George Proctor, the executive director of Woodhull Medical Center, who also oversees the whole North Brooklyn Health Network, said he might even expand the program to other hospitals in his network, like the Kings County Hospital.

"It really gets to kids right at the beginning of their educational journey," Proctor said of the innovative model.

As for Gonzalez, she said she'd found the program so helpful that she'd already recommended the sessions to her pregnant friend.

"I'd recommend this to every parent," Gonzalez said. "Especially young ones."