Nurses are traditionally known as individuals who dedicate
themselves to their patient's physical well-being. However,
students and faculty of the Loewenberg School of Nursing at
the University of Memphis are taking their duties one step
Stansbury, Larkin Warner, Lesley Morley, Nicole Black
and Leesa Spencer were among the U of M nursing school
students who participated in the literacy project.
This summer, a team comprised of nursing school faculty and
students began an initiative that is taking care of intellectual
well-being, too a project that promotes literacy. Utilizing
contacts made with young mothers and children at local health
facilities, the nursing students are educating parents on
the importance of reading by supplying them with educational
materials and opportunities for discussion.
A major component of the project is to provide books and
other literacy-enhancing materials to the target group, according
to Dr. Nancy Mele, a nursing school assistant professor who
is coordinating the project.
"We have put together approximately 2,000 book bags," says
Mele. "In each bag are two age-appropriate books. We also
have developmental messages linked to reading this
is what your child is doing at this age and that development
can affect activities that promote reading."
The bags also include information on how to obtain a library
card, and the location of libraries and how to use them. The
nursing school team worked with local advertising agency Sossaman
+ Associates to design the materials in an attractive, easily
understood manner geared towards the target audience.
"The target population for the project is children from
birth to five years old," says Mele.
Other faculty involved in the project include associate professor
Marjorie Luttrell and assistant professors Jean McIvor, Carolyn
Speros, Robert Koch and Tommie Norris. Lesley Morley is the
student coordinator of the group.
"It has been demonstrated that when reading is introduced
at a young age, children excel in school and do well on standardized
tests," says Morley. "I think it is very important
to stress how crucial it is to have a child interested in
learning. Reading even while pregnant enhances the ability
to learn earlier in childhood. I feel this is an excellent
step to better our community and show the involvement of the
nursing school in the metro area."
Students in the maternity concentration are responsible for
teaching parents of newborn babies the importance of reading
to their child. The goal is to reach 500 new mothers each
academic year at Methodist Germantown, Baptist Women's
Hospital and the Regional Medical Center.
The other section of students is focusing on pedi-atrics
and will work with the Porter-Leath Children's Center
Head Start program, which prepares children from low-income
families to succeed in elementary school.
The nursing students also are working with the Catholic Diocese
of Memphis to provide a proper education for children in the
Diocese's six Jubilee Schools, which are located in low-income
areas. The nursing students in these schools and neighborhoods
are directly working with children by reading to them and
"Our society has made it acceptable to leave the books
on the shelf and pick up the remote control," says Morley.
"It is important that we return to literacy in order
to preserve our children's future education." Mele
says that the nurses' approach to the promotion of literacy
is unique and irreplaceable.
"Nurses have contact with new mothers in ways that others
do not have," Mele says. "We are there at birth.
We are there in those critical hours following birth when
parents are like sponges in wanting to learn so many things.
That is a way for us to access a population that does not
usually get this message."
Mele notes that many programs neglect the fact that reading
and learning begin at birth. "You could walk up to most
people on the street and ask if they have any thoughts about
the importance of reading to a newborn baby," she says.
"Most of them would say, 'A newborn ... why would
you do that?' The goal of our maternity students is to
educate the parents on the importance of reading to all ages."
The literacy project was made possible through a one-year
$20,000 technical assistance grant from the Assisi Foundation
of Memphis. Assisi is a nonprofit organization that works
to enhance health care, education and cultural advancement.
With the funding, Mele's group partnered with It's
Time to Read, an organization established in 1997 with the
theme of promoting the importance and enjoyment of reading
in the Memphis metropolitan area.
"We wanted not to recreate the wheel, but to tag on
to the It's Time to Read efforts," says Mele. "What
we are doing is different in means, but our mission is mostly
the same to facilitate early reading."
A survey will measure the success of the project. Subsequent
national recognition could mean more funding, which could
lead to the opportunity for involvement with a larger effort.
First Book, an organization that works through other programs
to provide books to children of low-income families, is one
Mele says the project may spur other similar initiatives
within the nursing school.
"We have some lofty ideas as to how we would like to
infuse emergent literacy into all of our curriculum,"