02/28/2014 04:01 pm ET Updated Apr 30, 2014

Tackling the Childhood Literacy Gap

Amidst urban gentrification, it can be easy to forget about the early education crisis that persists in many American cities. In my own neighborhood, as I enter the bright, new Target store, I tend to think more about my shopping list than about the nearby elementary schools -- one of which was recently slated to be closed but remains open because of concerns related to gang-inspired feuds.

As news about the massive wave of Chicago public school closings spread, I thought about the effect on my community and I sought additional information about early education. What I learned was rather alarming. While the vast majority of Americans acknowledge that early childhood literacy is an important issue that receives too little attention, few understand the literacy gap that disproportionately impacts children from low-income communities. These children start kindergarten 60 percent behind their peers from affluent neighborhoods. There are several severe and life-long consequences associated with the absence of early childhood literacy skills. I was unaware that when children under five are not read to before kindergarten, they are more likely to have drug and alcohol problems and are less likely to succeed as adults. I was startled to learn a majority of low-income families do not have books suitable for children in their homes. It was difficult for me to imagine growing up without classics such as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and Oh, the Places You'll Go!

As I became more cognizant of this dire situation, I felt compelled to get involved and joined the Jumpstart Young Professionals Board. Jumpstart is working toward the day every child in America enters kindergarten prepared to succeed. It is the only national supplemental program that utilizes the power of community and adult-child relationships to build key learning skills children need to succeed. As a member of the Young Professionals Board, I partner with the dedicated Jumpstart Chicago staff to assist with fundraising and visibility. We're currently planning an event in celebration of Dr. Seuss' birthday. Over 600 children and families from across Chicago will come together for an afternoon filled with reading, games and crafts. Jumpstart has hosted this day of fun, featuring readings from Dr. Seuss' beloved stories, for the past six years. This year Dr. Seuss Day will take place on Saturday, March 1st, at Roosevelt University in Chicago. The goal of the event is to raise awareness about early education and the achievement gap. Donations to Jumpstart help to provide classroom activity materials, core storybooks and volunteer training to implement Jumpstart's supplemental literacy program throughout the year. An investment in early childhood education benefits society as a whole, contributing to higher academic achievement, lower rates of crime and higher levels of lifetime workforce productivity.

To learn more about Dr. Seuss Day or to make a donation, please reach out to Rachel McHugh via email at