Just days before the 2012 Commencement on the Hobart and William Smith Quad, a smaller – and quite different sort of commencement – took place in the Vandervort Room. Eight toddlers and their mothers sat in chairs, donning miniature mortar boards, awaiting the presentation of their diplomas – signifying their successful graduation from Baby College.
Each year, parents of young children in the Geneva community are invited to enroll in the Baby College program, an early literacy program for adolescent mothers. The six-week program helps these new mothers learn about the importance of teaching their children to read – as well as the importance of being read to. Being read to helps prepare a child for school, ultimately giving the child a better chance at succeeding in his or her education.
Rev. W. James Gerling L.H.D.’09, senior pastor of the Presbyterian Church, opened the graduation with a brief reflection. “I am proud of the way you are all stopping to look around and assess how your child is doing; for asking – what is the most important thing I can be doing for them and for their future?”
Jane Gerling L.H.D.’09, a volunteer with the Baby College program, also lent her support to the program graduates. “You have been there at every class. You are not leaving your children’s future to chance – you are reading, singing – you are investing in their future.” Jane is an important figure in the Geneva community, lending her time and efforts to the Head Start and Success for Geneva’s Children programs as well as countless other local initiatives.
Program Coordinator Shana Allen ’11 expressed her pride in the dedication the women in the class showed. “It was exciting for me to be a part of the program this year. I feel so lucky that I got to meet you, you have all truly inspired me,” Allen said.
Following a song celebrating the importance of reading in childhood development, Assistant Professor of Psychology Julie Kingery addressed the young mothers and their families, commending them for their hard work and initiative. “I used to think that I had a difficult job,” said Kingery, who recently became a mother. “Being a parent is the most difficult job. This program is like planting a seed – you don’t see the flower or the tree for a very long time, it takes years and years to grow. Even if you can’t see the seed, it is growing. Keep reading and talking to your children, countless studies have shown that they will do better in school and in life if you do.”
As a mark of congratulations, Kingery gave each of the mothers a copy of Dr. Seuss’ “I Can Read with my Eyes Shut,” reading aloud the line: ‘The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.’
“The responsibility of a child’s upbringing belongs to the community. We are with you as long as you are part of our community,” remarked Rev. Gerling. “Reading will help these children become successful, educated parents themselves. You are helping these beautiful children become the people they were created to be.”
Baby College is part of a larger program called “Project Promise,” a collaboration between Child & Family Resources, Finger Lakes Health and the Presbyterian Church of Geneva . The program also offers a Mom’s Club, Birthing Classes and Cooking Classes for adolescent mothers.