Putting Education Reform To The Test

Struggling Florida Students Will Have “ReadingPals”


An early literacy initiative called “ReadingPals” will have three years to flourish in Florida thanks to a $3-million grant.

Local chapters of the United Way of Florida will use the money to train and deploy volunteer “ReadingPals.”

The program is designed to increase the number of students reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

“The early years, when 90 percent of brain growth occurs, are crucial to growing children,” said David Lawrence, Jr., chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida. “Learning to read by third grade is crucial, and reading to learn must become the standard by no later than fourth grade.”

Lawrence noted that the most recent FCAT results showed 44 percent of third graders reading below grade level.

Governor Rick Scott attended the ReadingPals launch at a library in Tallahassee.

“Today’s third graders,” he said, “are tomorrow’s doctors, engineers, teachers and innovators — tomorrow’s job creators.”

First Lady Ann Scott read a book to children at the library during the program kickoff. She’s been promoting the 2012 Summer Literacy Adventure, encouraging kids to keep reading over the summer break.

“She goes to schools, libraries, and parks and reads to these kids. It’s probably the most fun day she has,” said Gov. Scott.

The money for ReadingPals is provided by Carol and Barney Barnett of Lakeland.

“We are a blessed family and feel obliged to make sure we give back a full measure to our community and country,” said Carol Barnett, president of Publix Super Markets Charities and vice chair of The Children’s Movement.

The young participants will be given books throughout the school year to keep.

Volunteers are asked to commit an hour a week for 25 weeks, working with one to three children.

The program will start matching volunteers with students in September and October. Those who want to help should contact their local United Way.

These United Way of Florida chapters have received ReadingPals grants:

  • Big Bend Region (Leon County)
  • Broward County
  • Central Florida (Polk and Highlands counties)
  • Manatee County
  • Marion County
  • Miami-Dade County
  • Northeast Florida (Duval County)
  • North Central Florida (Alachua County)
  • Suncoast (Hillsborough and Pinellas counties)
  • Volusia-Flagler Counties


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