According to an April 26 Miami Herald article, a child raised in Overtown will live an average of 71 years, while one raised in Brickell Key has a life expectancy of 86 years.
Why is there such a large difference in life expectancy for children in Miami? Education, access to healthcare and family stability are huge factors. These are all issues emphasized in the United Way ALICE Report (an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). The report provides an in-depth look at the hardships that 50 percent of Miami-Dade households face living in or on the edge of poverty. Yet, early care and education is at the foundation of it all.
Since the early years of a child’s life are a critical time for brain development, quality early care and education programs and initiatives that include family engagement and trainings are vital. These programs ensure that our youngest citizens get the earliest possible exposure to powerful and positive interactions that lead to their social and emotional development. Among them is building their literacy skills.
Studies have found that reading at grade level by third grade is a critical indicator of high school graduation – a child who reads proficiently by this time is four times more likely to graduate than a child who does not. And, while Florida Standards Assessment exams show that there has been a slow but steady improvement in reading levels, there is much more work to be done.
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The idea is that we all have a stake in helping children thrive, and each of us can have a positive impact on a child’s current development by helping him or her fall in love with books. That is the goal of United Way’s ReadingPals program — to engage volunteers in improving preschooler’s literacy skills, particularly those facing vulnerable economic conditions, and to prepare them for kindergarten and beyond.
Over the last four years, 649 adult readers have provided more than 6,000 hours of reading to 1,644 young children in our community. On September 12, ReadingPals volunteers will begin reading to children in more than 50 early learning classrooms throughout Miami-Dade.
Over the course of 28 weeks, each volunteer will make a commitment to spend 30 minutes per week working with two children to help them build vocabulary and other literacy skills by reading high-quality books and engaging them in interactive learning activities. The program also expands early learning beyond the classroom, by providing each child with take-home books and easy-to-follow activities.
Fifteen United Ways in Florida are currently participating in this initiative, funded through a private grant from Carol Jenkins Barnett, chairman and president of Publix Super Markets Charities, and Barney Barnett, Publix vice chairman.
Joining United Way in this ReadingPals initiative are local partners: Books & Books, Early Learning Coalition, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Miami-Dade Public Library Systems, The Children’s Movement of Florida and The Children’s Trust.
Please, become a volunteer to read to the children in our community.
Sign up today in Miami-Dade at www.unitedwaymiami.org
unitedwaymiami.org or 305-646-7021.
Marielena A. Villamil is president and COO, The Washington Economics Group, Inc. and United Way of Miami-Dade board member.