Read to children, change a life

08/26/2014 6:26 PM

08/26/2014 6:28 PM

After reading to my students, we’d walk around the library and I’d tell them: ‘Look at all of these books; soon you’ll be able to read every single one. And if you can read every book here, you can learn anything you ever want to learn. And that’s what we are going to do together,’ ” said Alvin Blake, the former vice mayor for the City of North Bay Village.

Blake is among 400 reading volunteers in Miami-Dade and Broward counties who set aside time each week to help preschoolers improve their literacy skills by instilling a love of reading.

He is a member of ReadingPals, a partnership among The Children’s Movement and 10 United Ways in Florida, all made possible through a generous and personal grant from Carol Jenkins Barnett, chairman and president of Publix Super Markets Charities, and Barney Barnett, vice chairman of Publix.

Locally, we’re kicking off our third year of the ReadingPals program in more than 105 early-learning classrooms in some of South Florida’s most vulnerable areas.

Over the course of 28 weeks, the volunteers will work with pairs of young children to help them build vocabulary and other literacy skills by reading high-quality books and engaging them in interactive learning activities.

Why is reading to 4-year-olds important?

We must start early — indeed, from the earliest days and years of a child’s life. Research tells us that children who learn to read well at an early age will not only read more independently, but also achieve more in math, social studies and science; and are more likely to graduate high school and pursue higher education.

Most recent FCAT scores show that 56 percent of third-graders in Miami-Dade County Public Schools and 57 percent of third-graders in Broward County Public Schools are reading at grade level, up three percent in both counties from the previous year. While this percentage is inching in the right direction, there is still much work to be done.

During the 2013-2014 school year, the statewide ReadingPals programs had 1,720 volunteers who read to more than 2,700 preschool students. The volunteers offered nearly 27,000 hours of personalized instruction and formed strong bonds with the children. And because we understand the importance of reading at home, the students received 46,440 books of their own.

In Broward and Miami-Dade, almost 400 volunteer ReadingPals clocked more than 5,100 reading hours at 105 classrooms. In Miami-Dade, volunteers read to 168 preschoolers while in Broward volunteers read to 200 first graders.

Each county used a different assessment tool, but the results were equally impressive, with all students increasing their print knowledge, phonological awareness and oral language skills by 60 percent or more, many improving by more than 100 percent.

It’s all about inspiring our youngest by allowing them to experience a bigger world through books and personal interactions.

The Barnetts, dozens of community partners and thousands of readers across the state understand the importance of reading to children at an early age. We’ve seen first-hand the impact a weekly reading session can have on a child’s life — and, in the process, our own.

You can become a ReadingPal easily enough. Local ReadingPals partners include: A.D. Henderson, Broward County Public Schools, Early Learning Coalition, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Miami-Dade Public Library Systems, The Children’s Movement of Florida, The Children’s Trust and Youth Mentoring.

Sign up today in Miami-Dade at www.unitedwaymiami.org/readingpals or contact readingpals@unitedwaymiami.org or 305-646-7021. In Broward County, sign up at www.unitedwaybroward.org/readingpals or contact alecorgne@unitedwaybroward.org or 954-453-3742.

Harve Mogul is president and CEO of United Way of Miami-Dade, and Kathleen Cannon is president and CEO of United Way of Broward County.

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