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Florida Program Recruits Volunteers to Help Increase Early Literacy

Research has shown that kids who are reading on grade level by 4th grade have a better chance of graduating from high school. But, in Florida, more than one-third of 3rd graders in public school can't read at minimum levels of proficiency, lessening their chances for academic success as they move through school.

That's why the Children's Movement of Florida, school districts and the United Way have joined together on a three-year initiative that will connect volunteers with kids in preschool through 3rd grade to help them on the road to literacy.

Carol Barnett, a co-chair of the Children's Movement, and her husband, Barney, are funding the ReadingPals Program, which is under way in 10 regions. The idea is to recruit, train, and deploy adult volunteers to dedicate one hour per week, for at least 25 weeks, to work with at-risk kids individually or in groups.

ReadingPals hopes to recruit about 2,000 volunteers—from high school seniors to senior citizens—in its pilot year, said John Knight, early-literacy coordinator for the Children's Movement.

"We're really just looking for anyone committed to this effort," Knight said Friday.

Volunteers will be trained in curricula provided by the individual school districts that complements what's happening in the classroom. Some districts are opting to just work with preschoolers; others are working with kids from pre-k through 3rd grade, Knight said.

In Leon County, officials hope to recruit 175 volunteers to work one-to-one with kids in kindergarten, 1st or 2nd grade during an after-school program, said Heather Mitchell, the president and CEO of United Way of the Big Bend, during a press conference announcing the program last month.

The program also is under way through United Way chapters representing the following regions: Broward, Polk, Highlands, Manatee, Marion, Miami-Dade, Duval, Alachua, Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Volusia-Flagler counties.

 An official launch is scheduled for Aug. 21, with programs to begin in counties in September and October, Knight said.

"We've been heavily recruiting," he said. "We're going to be continuing that all the way through September and October."


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