Milford High School Students Respond to the "Word Gap"

Posted on: May 19, 2015

When students in Betsy Woods’ “Seniors Read with Second Graders” class at Milford High School learned about the vocabulary gap between children under three years of age in different socioeconomic statuses, they decided to act.

Woods’ elective class for high school seniors enables older students to read to second graders at local grade schools during the school day.  Milford High School students noticed that having quality books in the home, as well as being read to, increased their second graders’ reading abilities.  “We realized early on that it would be beneficial if kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds had the same access to quality books as others,” student Ashley McFadden said.  

This first-hand experience was expanded upon with recent research finding that children from high-income families are exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare. Every Child Succeeds, a local home visiting program, seeks to close this “word gap” among the families the organization serves. Home visitors administer the MacArthur-Bates Short Form Vocabulary Checklist to assess a child’s early language development. The checklist is a standardized tool consisting of a series of 100 words children under 3 years of age may be able to say.  

By pairing with Every Child Succeeds, students chose to help close the "word gap" with a student-created children's book, using the MacArthur-Bates Vocabulary Checklist as a guide.  Students responding to community needs through the classroom – called service-learning – is a strategy that Woods was excited to infuse into her classroom with the support of the Mayerson Foundation High School Service-Learning Program.

The students worked in small groups to write, illustrate, and design the book.  “We were all able to come together with our different skill sets to create the finished product,” Abby Baughan said.  The finished product, Nora the Cat, was created using Amazon’s CreateSpace.  The first one hundred copies of the book will be given to Every Child Succeeds.  Additionally, the book is available for purchase on Amazon with proceeds benefiting Every Child Succeeds. “In the end, creating Nora the Cat was a rewarding experience that rounded out our class,” student Carley Matson said. 

Every Child Succeeds will utilize the books in home visits that help first-time parents create a nurturing, healthy environment for their children in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky. Home visits, which take place from the time of pregnancy through the child's third birthday, are designed to ensure an optimal start for children both physically and emotionally.

For more information about Every Child Succeeds, please visit