Supporting children’s literacy in Michigan

UnitedHealthcare is committed to helping people live healthier lives and making the health system work better for everyone. Building relationships with community-based organizations to provide support beyond health services is a vital factor in keeping people healthy and keeping communities strong. UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Michigan values the relationships it has built and believes that partnering at the community level builds trust through collaboration and is the most effective path toward real and lasting change.

Recognizing that social and economic factors have a profound impact on achieving and maintaining good health, and that improving children’s literacy rates is an important contributor to thriving communities, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Michigan has launched three literacy initiatives.

Taking place from May 2022 through March 2023, the initiatives included collaborating with Scholastic Books to hold Book Fairs in rural elementary schools, organizing Virtual Book Fairs for a small and rural school district and providing books to Grace Health, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), for their Reach Out and Read program.

Children’s literacy rates in Michigan have been decreasing for nearly 20 years.  Michigan now ranks 43rd in the nation for fourth grade reading overall, according to the 2023 State of Michigan Education Report.“Children from families whose incomes are below the federal poverty threshold face early and persistent challenges to educational success,” noted the report.

A 2022 study by the University of Michigan found that 52% of Michigan's third-grade students had a reading deficiency. The rates were even higher among historically marginalized student groups.2

Encouraging reading with free, self-selected books 

For elementary school children, self-selecting books leads to increased reading comprehension and vocabulary skills compared to children who are assigned a reading.3 In a Scholastic report, 89% of kids surveyed said their favorite books are the ones they picked out themselves, and 88% said they are more likely to finish reading a book they have picked out themselves.4

To help make a meaningful impact on literacy in underserved communities, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Michigan collaborated with Scholastic to identify rural schools that had no history of prior Book Fairs. Five elementary schools in rural areas across northern and central Michigan were chosen for Scholastic Book Fairs, and UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Michigan provided 2800 free, self-selected books to 1400 children attending the events. 

Overcoming a barrier to literacy  

The second initiative was created after UnitedHealthcare and Scholastic identified a rural school district with a variety of schools that each had less than 50 students. To make sure children in those schools were able to receive books, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Michigan collaborated with Scholastic Books to offer a Virtual Book Fair.

Each child at five small elementary schools in the Huron County Rural Schools district received a $35 Scholastic gift card from UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Michigan so that students could order books of their choice from the Scholastic site.

Encouraging parents to read to children

The third initiative was a collaboration with Grace Health, a FQHC which participates in the Reach Out and Read program, a national nonprofit promoting literacy as an important part of pediatric primary care. Reading together furthers language acquisition, promotes brain development and provides an opportunity for families to build powerful, lasting bonds.5

Integrating reading aloud into pediatric care has proven to be a transformative practice. Meaningful connections such as sharing books are recognized as an important part of Early Relational Health, a framework for healthy development recognized by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which has officially endorsed the Reach Out and Read model since 1998.

To support their participation in Reach Out and Read, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Michigan has donated over 300 books to Grace Health, which gives an age-appropriate book to children ages 6 months to 5 years each time they visit for a well-child visit.

Improving literacy rates for whole-person health 

Researching, developing and funding these initiatives illustrates UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Michigan’s commitment to equitable, whole person, community-centric solutions. Creating healthy bonds for families through reading contributes to whole-person health, while improving literacy rates helps empower children to succeed academically and build better, healthier futures. 

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