Starting in September, United Way of Miami-Dade will launch the second year of its three-year ReadingPals program which brings together community volunteers to help young children improve their literacy skills. United Way of Miami-Dade is one of 10 United Ways in Florida participating in this three-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.
Over the course of 28 weeks, 200 ReadingPals volunteers will spend 30 minutes per week at one of more than 50 different early learning classrooms at low-performing schools throughout Miami-Dade County. Volunteers are matched with pairs of children to help build vocabulary and other literacy skills by reading high quality books and engaging them in interactive learning. The program offers trainings for participating teachers and volunteers that utilize the VPK assessment to identify intentional interventions for children. To encourage family engagement and expand early learning beyond the classroom, this year ReadingPals will give each participating student four take-home books, along with easy-to-follow literacy activities that align with VPK standards and are required for kindergarten readiness. At the end of the program, each child will receive ‘Transition to Kindergarten’ kits that includes a book, a calendar of family activities to keep children engaged in early literacy throughout the summer and resources for parents on a child’s transition to kindergarten.
“Helping young children develop literacy skills at an early age and foster a love for reading is so important to their overall development,” Harve A. Mogul, president and CEO, United Way of Miami-Dade, said. “Thanks to the Barnett family, ReadingPals is helping the young children improve their reading skills which will help them achieve success in school and later on in life.”
Research shows that children who are reading on grade level by fourth-grade have a better chance of graduating from high school. In Miami-Dade County public schools 47% of third graders cannot read at grade level; at low-performing Miami-Dade County public schools, 73% of third grade students cannot read at minimum levels of proficiency.
“Being a Reading Pal has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. Each week the children would become so excited about being read a book and to watch them blossom and grow was truly gratifying,” Cindy McCall –Talbert, ReadingPals volunteer, said. “It is important that we encourage our community to volunteer and participate in ReadingPals so that we can continue to change lives and better the youth of our community.”
The ReadingPals program builds on United Way of Miami-Dade’s volunteer reader program, launched in September of 2011. Since its inception, the program has benefited more than 1,400 young children throughout Miami-Dade.
Joining United Way in this ReadingPals initiative are local partners: Early Learning Coalition, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Miami-Dade Public Library Systems, The Children’s Movement of Florida and The Children’s Trust.