April 06, 2017

In Its Second Year, PNC-Funded Program in Woodlawn, Norwood Continues to See Growth, Success

April 6, 2017

On the second and third Saturday of the month, Vocabby enters a workshop to his own theme song and much cheering from his pre-school audience gathered in a circle on the floor. Vocabby is the taxicab mascot for “Words Are Our World” and he’s part of an arts- and science-based program that is helping area children and their families grow their vocabularies.

Thanks to a $500,000 grant from PNC Foundation, the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center along with McWane Science Center launched the program in the Woodlawn and Norwood communities in September 2016.

This week, Brian Bucher, PNC regional president for Alabama, will participate in the program PNC helped bring to Birmingham’s underserved communities. He will read to children who attend the Saturday morning program in Woodlawn.

“Vocabulary is the cornerstone of a child’s development,” said Mr. Bucher. “It’s important that corporate partners step up to provide our community partners, families and children with the right resources for a good start. We all have a stake in investing in our children and the state’s economic future.”

Heath Mixon, Alys Stephens Center’s Associate Director of Engagement (and the man in the Vocabby suit), said 57 families attend the workshops on a regular basis, and attendance continues to grow.

Each month, “Words Are Our World” introduces six to eight new words through science projects with McWane and through visual arts and movement with the Alys Stephens Center. Alys Stephens Center creates a book that features the vocabulary words and a story featuring Vocabby.

“Words Are Our World” also engages local community partners with the Passport Program, a word scavenger hunt. Each month Woodlawn area merchants display vocabulary posters related to items in their businesses. Participating children receive passports with the target words, and when the children locate the word in their community businesses, they get their passports stamped for points.

Participating businesses have included Woodlawn Cycle Café, 55th Place Thrift Store, City Meats, CommVess, First Avenue Upholstery, The Shop & Basics, Imagine That Barbershop & Style, North Birmingham Library, Raised by the Village Daycare, and QP Gas & Diesel Service Station.

The workshops have inspired parents in Norwood to start their own educational support group for single mothers. Norwood Community Center, which hosts the “Words Are Our World” programs, holds a weekly potluck for families in the program.

Birmingham is one of 10 cities PNC selected as part of a $10 million pilot, which engages community organizations to build young children’s vocabularies. Research has shown that, when pre-school children’s vocabularies are less developed, they have less chance of success in pre-K and kindergarten.

For information about supporting Words Are Our World: Lili D. Anderson, Senior Director of Development, lilida@uab.edu; 205-934-6196.