Reading Pal

Volunteer Frances Flasshe reads to children during the United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties ReadingPals program recently.

If you like to read and know 199 friends who do, too, the United Way needs you to help the agency’s expanded ReadingPals program.

Francine Martin, volunteer coordinator for United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties, said, “A child learns to read up until the third grade. After third grade, fourth grade, they read to learn.”

ReadingPals is a statewide early literacy initiative that provides volunteer mentors for students from Voluntary Prekindergarten to third grade who may need extra help, using one-on-one or small group settings.

ReadingPals is managed by The Children’s Movement of Florida and administered through 17 United Ways with the help of numerous community partners across the state.

It is funded by the Barnett family and Publix Charities with other aid from Women United, local school districts, Early Learning Coalitions, Children’s Services Councils and local libraries.

“ReadingPals is a great program and we are in our eighth year,” Ms. Martin said.

The program is taken seriously by The Children's Movement, she said. “We are the ones who execute it. They control the money and they are the ones who make sure we do what we are supposed to. We have to create all kinds of reports. We have to keep track of the hours the volunteers read, the hours the children are read to. We have a goal of 19 or more hours each school year that has to be met.”

That discipline has it expanding.

“Schools are now coming to us requesting that we bring the program into their schools,” Ms. Martin said. “It’s well-run, well put together.”

The Early Learning Coalition puts together the curriculum and chooses the books.

“Each school will get a set of 29 books, the lesson plans, all the materials that are needed for each particular book that is (kept) in the school for the volunteer to use,” Ms. Martin said. “This year in Volusia County we are in 11 elementary schools/head start centers and up to 30 classrooms. We work with the teachers, so the teachers know what we are doing and we have to get their permission. The principals have to give permission for the program to be in their school.”

Grants are obtained, such as from Women United, so books can be bought for children to take home.

All volunteers, who get thorough background checks, read to three students at a time for 30 minutes and then read to a different group for a total of one hour.

To borrow a phrase from another children's literacy program, reading is fundamental.

One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade, do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than proficient readers, according to Ms. Martin. About 75% of prison inmates cannot read above the fourth grade level.

Schools and centers in the program this year are:

•Orange City Elementary

•Friendship Elementary, Deltona

•McInnis Elementary, DeLeon Springs

•Head Start Chisholm Center, New Smyrna Beach

•Head Start EVEC, Daytona Beach

•Head Start Coleman, Orange City

•Head Start Hope Place,

Daytona Beach

•Head Start Port Orange

•Holly Hill Elementary

•Florida United Methodist Children's Home, DeBary

•Atlantic High School, Port Orange (No volunteers needed, this is on campus and the high school students read to the VPK students)

For more information or to volunteer, call Ms. Martin at (386) 275-1948.

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