Inspirational. Ask Maria Blet, a banker and volunteer who has spent the last year reading to young children in early learning classrooms, to describe her experience. That’s the one word she uses: Inspirational.
Maria is one of 200 reading volunteers in our community who sets aside 30 minutes each week to help preschool children improve their literacy skills. They are all participants in a program called ReadingPals, a partnership between The Children’s Movement and 10 United Ways (including Miami-Dade and Broward) in Florida, all made possible through a generous, personal grant from Carol Jenkins Barnett, chair of Publix Super Markets Charities, and Barney Barnett, the Publix vice chairman.
This month, we kick off our second year of the ReadingPals program in more than 50 early learning classrooms at some of the most challenged schools in Miami-Dade. Over 28 weeks, volunteers will work with pairs of young children to help them build vocabulary and other literacy skills via reading high quality books and engaging them in interactive learning.
Why does this all matter?
A painful number of children in Miami-Dade County are at risk of failing out of school.
This past year’s FCAT scores show that in Miami-Dade County public schools 47 percent of third graders cannot read at grade level. At lower-performing Miami-Dade public schools, 73 percent of third-grade students cannot read at minimum levels of proficiency.
If a child reaches the fourth-grade and cannot read at grade level, he or she is four times more likely to drop out of high school. There are, of course, great and long-term economic and social costs associated with high school dropouts.
Knowing that 85 percent of core brain structure is formed in the first three years of life, targeting young children at the preschool level is a vital time for early intervention. Introducing reading to children at an early age prepares and provides them with the skills set to help offset these drastic statistics.
The Barnetts get it. That’s why they’ve invested so generously in this program.
Maria Blet and her fellow readers get it. They’ve seen first-hand the impact 30 minutes a week can have on a child’s life — and, in the process, their own.
How about you? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 305-646-7021.
Become a ReadingPal and give a child the attention, the tools, the resources and the knowledge they deserve and need to succeed.
Harve Mogul is the president and CEO of the United Way of Miami-Dade. Dave Lawrence, a former Herald publisher, chairs the The Children’s Movement of Florida and serves as president of The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation and education and community leadership scholar at the University of Miami School of Education and Human Development.