Letters to the Editor

Prepare preschoolers for success — become a ReadingPal

The July 29 article, Report: 1/3 of young children in Dade live in poverty, confirms the findings of the United Way ALICE Report, which recognizes that half the households in Miami-Dade county are struggling to consistently afford the basics.

United Way works to strengthen families through education, financial stability and health. However, education is the foundation of it all.

We offer training to more than 3,500 early education professionals each year, we advocate for young children and families at the state and national levels, and we fund dozens of programs to help our children succeed. While finding solutions can seem daunting, we can all take small steps. Here’s one way you can help prepare 4-year-olds for success — become a volunteer reader.

Through its ReadingPals volunteer program, United Way of Miami-Dade and its partners are working hard to ensure our community’s youngest residents, particularly those facing vulnerable economic conditions, have access to books, early literacy interactions, and are entering kindergarten ready to learn.

The idea is to help children build confidence and be ready for a formal school setting by age five, because during the crucial early years, children develop primary skills that form the foundations of reading, counting and social interaction.

It’s not enough to help children survive, it’s our duty to help them thrive; to provide them with quality early experiences and ensure they have the tools to achieve great things. Research shows 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. These children are also more likely to graduate high school and to pursue higher education.

On Sept. 15, the ReadingPals program will kick off its fourth year in 50 early learning classrooms in Miami-Dade. Over the course of 28 weeks, each volunteer will work 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.

Our children and our community face many challenges. Let’s work together to ensure that literacy and school readiness aren’t on the list.

Fifteen United Ways in Florida are currently participating in this four-year 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.

Sign up today at www.unitedwaymiami.org/readingpals or contact ReadingPals@unitedwaymiami.org or 305-646-7021.

Yolanda Berkowitz, engagement chair and board member, United Way of Miami-Dade