There are several factors that impact one's overall health — environment, exercise, eating right, health services — but one that many might not consider is in the palm of their hands.

Kern County Public Health Services, Kern County Superintendent of Schools and the Kern County Library announced Wednesday they are partnering to promote the importance of literacy and how it contributes to improving health.

"Studies have shown that low literacy is linked to low health status and contributes to socioeconomic disadvantage. About 776 million adults, or 16 percent of the adult population, lacks literacy skills," said Brynn Carrigan, assistant director of Kern County Public Health. "This directly impacts our community as Kern County ranks one of the worst counties for our rates due to deaths of chronic diseases."

Public Health is launching a social media and billboard campaign that encourages parents and caregivers to promote literacy in the household. The campaign will share various ideas such as talking with children on a regular basis and reading books frequently for 20 minutes a day.

"That interaction and talking actually promotes literacy," Carrigan said.

Superintendent of Schools Mary Barlow explained Kern County's 47 public school districts along with higher education institutions signed the Kern Education Pledge to transform the educational system and ensure education remains a top priority for the community.

"We know both from research that reading and math proficiency by the end of third grade are the most important predictors of high school graduation and career success while also improving social-emotional interactions and stimulating brain development," Barlow said. "I am a true believer that education has the power to transform generations."

According to California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress results from 2018, 41.7 percent of Kern County students met and exceeded standards in English language arts compared to the state's 49.9 percent. In mathematics, 27.3 percent of Kern students met and exceeded standards compared to the state's 38.6 percent.

Barlow said literacy is on the uptick in the county — since 2015, Kern County’s percentage of students that met and exceeded English language arts standards increased by 8.7 percent compared to the state's 5.9 percent — and one of the keys to success is to get all students reading by the end of third grade.

She offered tips to introduce literacy in unique ways. When cooking, parents can ask their children to name ingredients, count them, sort them by size and color and measure them. A trip to the grocery store can be an opportunity to teach colors, numbers and words. Families can also volunteer for programs such as the Community Reading Project.

"Literacy is healthy, and a healthy community works together to lift our youth up and provide the opportunities so that every child in Kern County gets the opportunity they deserve to be successful," Barlow added.

There are also several programs available at various Kern County Library locations, said Jasmin LoBasso, marketing and promotions associate.

Through July, the library is hosting its Summer Reading Challenge for all ages. Children, teens and adults are encouraged to read during the summer months and when they finish they receive a prize including a book while supplies last. There will also be a free concert at the end of the month by the band Harry and the Potters. Those interested can sign up at www.kerncountylibrary.org.

Also this month, free lunch is available across half of its locations countywide.

An amnesty program is running through August that gives community members an opportunity to clear outstanding library fees and get reconnected with services.

"Literacy permeates literally every single facet of an individual's life," LoBasso said. "Reading is the foundation of learning."

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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