30 minutes a week helps children improve literacy skills and achieve more in school and life

In September, United Way of Miami-Dade’s ReadingPals program will kick off its fourth consecutive year of volunteers reading to preschoolers to enhance their literacy skills and prepare them for kindergarten.  United Way needs 200 volunteers and 5,000 age-appropriate books to continue helping 4-year-olds succeed in school and in life.  Last year, ReadingPals’ volunteers clocked 1,761 reading hours at 42 preschool classrooms in some of Miami-Dade’s most vulnerable areas.

“I’m passionate about children learning to read, because I know it is essential.  It’s the foundation to their entire learning experience,” said Georgia Thompson, a 3-year ReadingPals volunteer.  “In early care and education, children ages 0-to-5 need to be exposed to reading, language and literacy, in order to develop the skills necessary to be successful later on in life.”

Thompson, a director at the National Black Child Development Institute, has more than 12 years of professional experience in early education.  She is committed to helping our community’s children grow and learn.

Studies have found that reading proficiently by the end of third grade is a critical indicator of high school graduation.  A child who can’t read at grade level by 3rd grade is four times less likely to graduate high school than a child who reads proficiently by that time. Add poverty to the mix, and a child is 13 times less likely to graduate on time.

Last year, volunteers like Thompson worked with teachers to enhance the literacy skills (print knowledge, awareness and oral language and vocabulary) of 186 children by nearly 90 percent, according to Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) entrance and exit assessments.  The program also expanded early learning beyond the classroom, by providing each child with six take-home books, along with easy-to-follow activities that align with VPK standards and promote kindergarten readiness.

Take-home books are imperative, because increasing the number of books available to children at home, increases occurrences of reading with others, voluntary reading and overall improvement in basic literacy skills.  ReadingPals has partnered with Books & Books on a community book drive to ensure that each child receives take-home books.

The ReadingPals program is looking for 200 volunteer readers that will spend 30 minutes per week at one of more than 50 early learning classrooms, over the course of 28 weeks.  Each volunteer is matched with two children to help build vocabulary and other literacy skills by reading high-quality books and engaging them in interactive learning activities. The program offers trainings for participating volunteers and teachers that utilize the VPK assessment to identify intentional interventions for children.  At the end of the program, each child will receive a ‘Transition to Kindergarten’ kit that includes books, a calendar of summer activities for families and resources for a child’s transition to kindergarten.

“I would recommend volunteering with the ReadingPals program,” Thompson added.  “A small investment can have such a lasting effect on a child.”

For more information, visit www.unitedwaymiami.org/readingpals.  To volunteer with the ReadingPals program or host a ReadingPals book drive, email readingpals@unitedwaymiami.org or call 305-646-7021.  Donate pre-selected children’s book bundles to the ReadingPals program by visiting http://www.booksandbooks.com/united-way-community-book-drive and making a purchase.

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 & BooksEarly Learning CoalitionMiami-Dade County Public SchoolsMiami-Dade Public Library SystemsThe Children’s Movement of Florida and The Children’s Trust.