PNC launches $1M program to help Trenton preschoolers build vocab

By Cristina Rojas | For
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on October 17, 2015 at 10:00 AM, updated October 17, 2015 at 10:05 AM

TRENTON — Children from low-income families hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers by age 3. But the PNC Foundation is hoping to change that statistic in Trenton with a new $1 million, two-year initiative focused on building vocabulary.

The initiative is part of PNC's Grow Up Great, a $350 million, multi-year, bilingual initiative that began in 2004 to help prepare children from birth to age 5 for success in school and life.

The grant represents PNC's single-largest investment in the capital city.

The "Trenton Makes—Words!" program, which launched Saturday, will be led by the New Jersey State Museum in collaboration with Children's Home Society of New Jersey and the Trenton Community Music School.

"It's all about the notion that children who are exposed to words very early on will ultimately do better in school," said Linda Bowden, PNC Bank New Jersey's regional president.

The State Museum has taken the lead on developing the programs. The museum will host weekly storytime groups, hands-on activities and learning sessions designed to teach families how to talk, read and play with their children, said Beth Cooper, curator of education.

Elsewhere in the city, the Children's Home Society and Trenton Community Music School will host "pop-up" events and eight citywide celebrations will feature activities and programs meant to strengthen reading and vocabulary skills.

Families will also be given resources and toys to help them continue the progress at home.

"It doesn't have to be formal things," Cooper said. "Taking time to play with children, talk with them about colors, what they're going to do that day, little ways throughout the day to verbally engage them."

Cooper said few Trenton families visit the museum and she is eager for more residents to explore what they have to offer.

The museum is starting a new program for Trenton families and will also be giving out passes that provides free admission and discounts to the planetarium and gift shop, she said.

"Our hope is that these families will stay engaged and think about returning even if we're not doing these family sessions," she said.

Bowden, who was an elementary school teacher, said she hopes the two-year initiative will not only help kids hit the ground running when they start school, but also encourage schools to continue exposing kids to strong vocabulary at an early age.

"If children have the opportunity to really blossom and learn if they're given the tools, given that head start, down the road that's going to make a huge difference in society," she said. "They may be inventors one day, start businesses. ... The education piece and whatever role we and other institutions in New Jersey can play in helping to bolster it is enormous."

Cristina Rojas may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CristinaRojasTT. Find The Times of Trenton on Facebook.