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Bye-bye TV: Safety-net clinic unveils new mural to support learning

Local safety-net clinics in partnership with Stanford’s Pediatric Advocacy Program are promoting literacy for their youngest patients.

For years, a television dominated the children’s waiting room at MayView Community Health Center’s Mountain View clinic.

Now, a colorful new mural has taken its place -- one of several ways MayView and other local safety-net clinics in partnership with Stanford’s Pediatric Advocacy Program are promoting learning and literacy for their youngest patients.

Most of the children’s families have low incomes, and for more than half, their first language is not English. As the kids get ready to start kindergarten, clinic workers have noticed holes in their knowledge base signaling they’re not ready for school.

“We would ask them, do you know your colors? Can you write your name? Things like this,” said Lisa Chamberlain, MD, who heads the advocacy program. “These are smart kids, but they couldn’t do some of these basic things.”

When children start school behind, it not only undermines their chances of obtaining their full potential, but it also can undermine their health in the long run, Chamberlain said. People with higher levels of education, who are able to secure higher-paying jobs, tend to have better health.

A child’s earliest years also provide an important opportunity for stimulating brain development through conversation, singing and other language-related activities, she said.

There’s also another reason for pediatricians to step in: their offices are where nearly all children go at one time or another.

“We have this opportunity to capture these families, give them these messages in these early years of 0 to 5, when the kids are just developing so quickly,” Chamberlain said.

To that end, as part of the advocacy program’s Kinder Ready project, MayView’s three clinics and the other health centers are stocking books in their waiting rooms and taking down the televisions. There are plans to prescribe library cards, to activate community-based coaches to help parents and to launch a “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” campaign to emphasize the importance of parents verbally interacting with their young children. All of the clinics also hope to install murals, Chamberlain said.

Fair Oaks Health Center in Redwood City unveiled its piece in 2015. Eleni Ramphos, a program manager at MayView, started planning the Mountain View clinic's mural last year. She connected with Stanford graduate art student Sean Howe, and he worked with clinic leaders on a design.

He spent two weeks painting, often alongside young patients as they waited for their appointments. Some of the kids were even inspired to do drawings of their own. “If children like your art,” Howe said, “you’re onto something.”

The new mural features animals, numbers, letters, planets and words in both English and Spanish.

Aarti Gupta, MD, MayView’s medical director, said she hopes it will spur questions from youngsters and encourage conversations with their parents.

“While they’re waiting for their provider, they can spend quite a lot of time looking at it, trying to understand which animal, where does it come from? What is the name, whether it’s in English or Spanish,” Gupta said.

Beyond the educational message, MayView staffers say they hope the mural provides a warm welcome to immigrant families and lets all of their patients know that they’re valued.

“It really is something that shows our patients we care about you,” Ramphos said. “We think you deserve a beautiful space.”

Yulma Guerra, who was in the clinic when the Mountain View mural was unveiled, said she liked it because she thought it would entertain the children and help them practice their numbers.

As her 2-year-old daughter toddled over to investigate, Guerra pointed to one of the animals.

“Elefante.”

The little girl, shown in the photo above, reached out a tiny finger and touched the gray animal’s painted trunk.

Previously: Bringing art and nature into the expanding Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford and Stanford med student helps turn pediatrics waiting room into a center for school-readiness
Photo by Amy Jeter Hansen

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