ReadingPals 2016-2017: A Path of Hope to Thrivability
This week marked the kick-off of United Way of Manatee County’s ReadingPals 2016-2017 ReadingPals program. More than 120 volunteers are reading to approximately 230 pre-kindergartners now. In the past, we had approximately 60 volunteers reading to 100 students. UWMC ReadingPals will be in six different schools and 12 classrooms (in comparison to five last year) across Manatee County for a total of 28 weeks. Each week, the children will take home a new book to help build their personal library. “I can read this with my mommy tonight!” a Palm View four-year-old exclaimed when his volunteer revealed that the book they were reading is, in fact, his to keep. “Children keep us young and are a joy,” one ReadingPal explained in her reflection to others.
After only one day, volunteers and teachers commented on the progress they saw in their students. At Blackburn, the teacher informed me that she had not been able to get two students to stop rolling on the ground since they started school. When we glanced over to see these two children, they were sitting up and actively reading and pointing out their favorite parts of the books. “My ReadingPal is the GREATEST” one student yelled as the teacher went around in a circle afterwards to talk about the program. “DID YOU KNOW WE GET TO TAKE HOME THE BOOKS!” another squealed at the top of her lungs. (So loudly I heard her outside of the classroom while gathering up paperwork.) “I can read my new book with mommy and daddy; we don’t have a lot to read but this one is new” another said.
Students are receiving individualized attention and learning to hold books, sit and listen, ask questions, reflect on the stories, follow words left to right and top to bottom, point out letters, write their names and more. On Mondays and Tuesdays, ReadingPals work with a physical book that each child then gets to take home. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, ReadingPals work on Footsteps2Brilliance—an online library application that parents can download and utilize on any smart device.
“Do you remember Nick*?” one Reading Pal asked me about a Sea Breeze student with whom we worked during a summer program. She proceeded to explain how, at the beginning of the book, Nick was so squirrely, she did not think he heard a single word read. But when the ReadingPals reached a point in the book about a train, Nick jumped up and scurried across the room to bring the volunteer the classroom’s train. “This is a train,” he explained to the volunteer, connecting the single dimension object in the story to the three-dimensional classroom toy and making certain that he shared the discovery with his Pal.
ReadingPals works. UWMC has collected four years of both quantitative (numbers) and qualitative (anecdotal) data outlining growth in children’s word count, behavioral patterns in the classroom, reading comprehension, second-language learning, relationship development, love of reading, and more. ReadingPals had a 37.4% percentage gain in comparison to control groups’ 11.8% over the year. In a demographic where over 60% of families do not have a single book in the house, ReadingPals distributed almost 3,400 books and volunteers spent 1,900 hours reading these books one-on-one with the children.
As noted by one volunteer, education is a dynamic, ever-evolving endeavor and ReadingPals continues to grow with our students and families, promoting growth within our children’s learning and thrivability in our community. We are looking forward to our fifth year of ReadingPals where hope for our children abounds.
“ There is one emotion that remains [throughout the program]: hope. I feel hope because I have a son who will be going to school in the future. I feel hope because I see [our] children making progress. I feel hope because I believe [our] children will not be left behind.”