Author: Katrina Ganzler
Published June 3, 2014
A wise man once said “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” That man was no other than Dr. Seuss himself. He changed the world of children’s books and to this day encourages adults and children alike to travel the world though means of reading. There is a program doing something similarly here in Marion County and it is drastically improving the state of education in our area known as ReadingPals.
Carol Jenkins Barnett, the daughter of George Jenkins, founder of Publix Super Markets, along with her husband Barney, awarded 10 United Way’s throughout the state of Florida a grant to start an early literacy program called ReadingPals. United Way’s who were awarded the grant had strong Women’s Leadership Council’s and were tasked to mobilize women in the group to help with this initiative.
Essentially, the ReadingPals program mobilizes volunteers in our community to read to struggling kindergarteners weekly. In Marion County, ReadingPals works with kindergarteners in the Title One program, better known as the Academy. There are 15 participating schools in the county, all of which have 70% or more students on free or reduced lunch. Each school selects 25 of the lowest scoring students entering kindergarten to be put in the Academy program based on standardized admission testing. During the first year, 216 students in the ReadingPals program had the opportunity to be mentored by 162 local volunteers. Last year, 235 students were mentored by 196 volunteers.
Each week the students meet with the same reading mentor, allowing for a meaningful bond between the two throughout the school year. Students start to open up to their ReadingPals sharing their dreams, aspirations, and sometimes unfortunate home life. Multiple volunteers have mentioned that they don’t know who benefits more, themselves or the kindergarteners. In addition to getting mentored on a weekly basis, the participating students also receive 25 books throughout the year to take home and keep including winter and spring break. For summer break, students will be given six books, a library card application, and an incentive to read 10 books for $10 from TD Bank.
The best part about ReadingPals is that it has impacted test scores substantially. The overall average Academy standardized test scored improved 18%; in comparison to 7% for the overall average district standardized test scores. This illustrates the power of volunteers and the impact of reading to a child just one hour a week.
ReadingPals is crucial for our community’s future. Alarmingly, the county looks at third grade reading levels when deciding how many prison cells to build in the future. Looking at the bigger picture, you can see how education ties in to the state of community.
Next school year, ReadingPals will have 320 academy students in the program, creating a big need for more volunteers. The goal is to recruit 250 volunteers, especially men. Most of these students come from broken homes, sometimes with no father. The woman to man ratio is extremely outnumbered and the impact of a male ReadingPals mentoring a young boy in the program is extremely crucial.
If you want to change a child’s life and inspire yours, now is the perfect time to become a ReadingPal. Training will be going on throughout the summer at United Way of Marion County. For more information contact Jan Hathaway at 732-9696 ext. 212. To see a heart warming video about ReadingPals, click here. The power of change starts with you.