In September, United Way of Miami-Dade’s ReadingPals program will begin its third consecutive year of volunteers reading to preschoolers, while enhancing their literacy skills.
Last year, ReadingPals 160 volunteers clocked 1,500 reading hours at more than 50 preschool classrooms in some of Miami-Dade’s most vulnerable areas. They worked with teachers to enhance the literacy skills (print knowledge, awareness and oral language and vocabulary) of 168 children by more than 100 percent, according to entrance and exit assessments.
“After reading [to my students] we would walk around the library and I would 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,’” Alvin Blake said.
Blake, who is starting his third year as a ReadingPals volunteer, is a retired vice mayor for the City of North Bay Village, where he and his wife of 49 years still live today. Blake always has had a passion for reading.
“I let the kids express themselves, later realizing I’m talking with 4-year-olds about things they’ve never talked about, like snow and Velcro shoes. Before I knew it, I started to see tremendous improvements in their literacy skills. I saw excitement [in the children] and real changes,” Blake added.
Research shows that children who learn to read well at an early age not only will 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. According to recent FCAT scores, only 56 percent of third graders in Miami-Dade are reading at grade level. While in recent years this percentage has been inching in the right direction, there still is much work to be done.
Over the course of 28 weeks, 200 ReadingPals volunteers will spend 30 minutes per week at one of more than 50 early learning classrooms.
Volunteers are matched with pairs of children to help build vocabulary and other literacy skills by reading highquality books and engaging them in interactive learning activities. The program offers trainings for participating teachers and volunteers that utilize the Voluntary Prekindergarten assessment to identify intentional interventions for children.
To expand early learning beyond the classroom, ReadingPals provides each participating student with four take-home books, along with easy-to-follow activities that align with VPK standards and promote kindergarten readiness.
At the end of the program, each child receives a “Transition to Kindergarten” kit that includes a book, a calendar of summer activities for the family and resources for parents on a child’s transition to kindergarten.
Ten United Ways in Florida are currently participating in this three-year initiative, funded through a private grant from Carol Jenkins Barnett, chair and president of Publix Supermarkets Charities, and Barney Barnett, Publix vice chair. Joining United Way in this Reading Pals initiative are local partners: Early Learning Coalition, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Miami-Dade Public Library System, The Children’s Movement of Florida and The Children’s Trust.