Governor Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott today joined former Miami Herald Publisher Dave Lawrence, chair of The Children's Movement of Florida, and Carol Barnett, president of Publix Super Markets Charities, to launch the ReadingPals early literacy initiative.
Thanks to the generosity of Carol and Barney Barnett of Lakeland, United Way of Florida will receive $3 million over three years with the goal of helping children read on grade level by third grade. The three-year initiative, to be administered by local United Ways, will focus on engaging, training and deploying volunteer “ReadingPals” in 10 Florida regions to increase the number of students reading at grade level by the end of the third grade.
“Today's third graders are tomorrow’s doctors, engineers, teachers and innovators -- tomorrow's job creators,” said Governor Rick Scott. “What Carol and Barney Barnett are making possible will make such a difference in the future of our state, and Ann and I look forward to working with them on this great initiative.”
Each volunteer will commit an hour a week (for at least 25 weeks) with one, two or three children. The program will use evidence-based curricula to meet the needs of each community. Within each curriculum, volunteers will read a book out loud, guiding children through literacy activities and general conversations about the book. The program also will begin to build home libraries for participating children by sending books home throughout the school year.
“The early years when 90 percent of brain growth occurs are crucial to growing children who become eager students and contributing adults,” said David Lawrence, Jr., chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida. “Learning to read by third grade is crucial, and reading to learn must become the standard by no later than fourth grade. The very future of our state and country depend on this.”
The Florida Department of Education recently released the statewide third-grade FCAT reading scores, and 44 percent – 89,491 students – were found to be reading below grade level. These children who struggle with reading at a young age will be four times more likely to drop out of high school.
“We are a blessed family, and feel obliged to make sure we give back a full measure to our community and country,” said Carol Barnett, who is also vice chair of The Children’s Movement. “There’s no greater investment we could make in the future of Florida.”
These 10 United Ways of Florida have received ReadingPals grants:
• United Way of the Big Bend Region (Leon County)
• United Way of Broward County
• United Way of Central Florida (Polk and Highlands counties)
• United Way of Manatee County
• United Way of Marion County
• United Way of Miami-Dade County
• United Way of Northeast Florida (Duval County)
• United Way of North Central Florida (Alachua County)
• United Way Suncoast (Hillsborough and Pinellas counties)
• United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties
“United Way will work with local school districts, United Way Women’s Leadership Councils, Early Learning Coalitions, Children’s Services Councils and other organizations to engage students from pre-kindergarten to third grade,” said Ted Granger, president of United Way of Florida. “Thanks to Carol and Barney Barnett’s generosity, we will be able to recruit thousands of volunteers and launch the program in some of the most challenged public schools.”
Those interested in becoming ReadingPals volunteers should contact their local United Way. United Ways will connect volunteers to a particular school based on their location and preferred days. Volunteers will do a background screening and receive training in the curriculum selected for their region prior to entering the classroom. Lesson plans and step-by-step instructions will help volunteers through each reading session. Volunteers will begin to work with the children in ReadingPals in September and October – the specific launch date varying among the participating communities.
The Children’s Movement of Florida is supported by a broad and non-partisan coalition. Launched less than two years ago and already with more than 325,000 signed-up followers, the Children’s Movement believes that children must be our state’s highest priority. The Children’s Movement of Florida is proud to be a partner in this initiative that just in its first year will engage more than 2,000 volunteers eager to instill the love of reading in children. For more information about the origins, objectives and leaders of The Children's Movement of Florida, and about the current state of Florida's children, please visit www.childrensmovementflorida.org.