It’s a statistic that is hard to imagine – 62% of children entering school in Leon County are not “Kindergarten Ready.” And kids that start behind cannot catch up without extra help.
That’s where we are asking you to step in. One hour of your time each week spent helping a child in pre-K to third grade learn to read can not only put that young boy or girl on equal footing with classmates, but it also helps ensure future academic and career success. It is also guaranteed to be an experience you will treasure.
We know. We’ve seen firsthand the pride of an emerging reader as he proudly traces his finger under the words on the page of his favorite book, announcing that he doesn’t need any help on a previously difficult word. Or the joy of a little girl getting to choose a book to take home as her very own for the first time. And beyond reading, we’ve been honored to be a pal that a child trusts enough to share their dreams and their worries.
This year, the United Way of the Big Bend celebrated its 10th anniversary of ReadingPals. This early learning initiative trains and supports volunteer mentors to help young children who are learning to read. We’ve been in as many as 18 Leon County schools, and during the pandemic, we adjusted to online mentoring and now offer in-person and online options to our volunteers.
By the time school starts in August, our goal is to have 150 adult mentors to pair with children who want and deserve a little extra attention and help to get the right start they need to succeed.
What’s more, we’ve thought through all the what-ifs.” What if I miss a week due to illness or travel?” Other mentors quickly step in and help when a mentor must be out. “What if I’m not a teacher?” We train all mentors to use research-based lesson guides and literacy activities created by teachers and reading specialists – we make it as easy as possible. “What if I don’t want to travel far?” We have schools across the county and can offer online mentoring as well. “What if I can’t volunteer to mentor but still want to help?” You can donate to the UWBB’s Reading Pals program. It costs $165 per student per year for books, supplies, and resources. You can donate here or by visiting uwbb.org.
We also know it works. For the past decade, 80 to 90% of our Reading Pals students made improvements in reading scores on standardized assessments. Last year, 80% of our students improved at least one level in their reading program in just ten weeks.
We compare our kids to students to others at the same level who are not in our program and consistently see higher gains with kids who have mentors. Reading experts acknowledge that Reading Pals, coupled with strong instruction by the teachers in the classroom, have a direct impact with improvements in reading grade levels.
The impact of Reading Pals mentors who provide a consistent connection throughout the school year is instrumental in improved social and emotional skills that impact not only reading grade levels but overall academic performance. Studies also show that children with committed mentors are more confident and have fewer behavioral problems.
The smiles and hugs from these little people can brighten the day of anyone. That alone is enough for us to volunteer. It is just icing on the cake to know that the early learning experiences you provide can help them excel in the classroom and in life.
To volunteer, call Rhonda Cooper, the United Way of the Big Bend VP of Community Impact, at 850-487-8091 or email her at email@example.com.
We can’t imagine anything more rewarding than investing in a young child’s life and helping them discover the life-long joy of reading.
Erik Davis is chairman of the United Way of the Big Bend Board of Directors.
Sally Bradshaw is a member of the United Way of the Big Bend Executive Committee and Board of Directors.
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