February 15, 2016

UAB’s Alys Stephens Center and McWane Science Center kick off free PNC-funded program in Woodlawn, Norwood to grow young children’s vocabularies

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waow logoA new program designed to help grow pre-school children’s language skills has kicked off in Birmingham’s Woodlawn and Norwood neighborhoods, 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 are using the grant to help 2,000 children and their families grow their vocabularies through “Words Are Our World,” an arts- and science-based program. “Words Are Our World” introduces six to eight new words each month, through science projects with McWane and through visual arts and movement with the Alys Stephens Center.

Neighborhood workshops and hands-on vocabulary lessons are set for every second and third Saturday of the month, along with community-based events and other outreach activities, including center visits, professional performances and summer learning sessions.

“Vocabulary is the cornerstone of a child’s development, but underserved children are far behind their more affluent peers in learning new words,” said Brian Bucher, PNC regional president for Alabama. “While Gov. Robert Bentley and Alabama’s state legislators have increased funding for Alabama’s First Class Pre-K, it’s important that corporate partners also 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.”

Research has shown that, when pre-school children’s vocabularies are less developed, they have less chance of success in pre-K and kindergarten. 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.

“UAB is very grateful to PNC for its generous investment in our community, and we look forward to building on the success of our ongoing partnership with Norwood and Woodlawn,” said Ray Watts, M.D., UAB president. “We are excited to partner with McWane Science Center in this innovative new program using both arts and sciences to promote vital early learning for underserved children.

“Words Are Our World” introduces six to eight new words each month, through science projects with McWane and through visual arts and movement with the Alys Stephens Center.

“The Alys Stephens Center has long been committed to effective arts outreach that truly changes lives, and this new collaboration will enable us to have an even greater impact on education, quality of life and economic development,” Watts said.

Each month the Alys Stephens Center creates a book that features the vocabulary words and a story with the program’s taxicab mascot, Vocabby, who makes an appearance at every scheduled neighborhood event.

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

Children also earn points by attending program events. At the end of each year, if the children and their families have participated in 80 percent of the program, they will be awarded an iPad.