Reading All Year Long

Guest Correspondence

BY MARK PRITCHETT SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY JUL 20, 2019

The annual school grades and Florida Standards Assessment scores released this month by the Florida Department of Education put Sarasota County in the state’s top echelon yet again this year. We have been an “A” school district for 16 straight years, since the state began giving grades, and our students scored above average in every category of the FSA last year. In the reading tests specifically, Sarasota County Schools tied for third in the state for percentage of students in grades 3 to 10 who passed.

As a community, we expect this success. But it doesn’t just happen because of that. Our district leadership continually looks for areas in which to improve. Our teachers are as dedicated and innovative as they come.

One of our biggest reading challenges is preventing the “summer slide.” This occurs when students put away their books for the summer and then experience a decline in their reading abilities. It’s especially a problem for children who are reading below grade level in our early grades. Without the right tools and opportunities, many children who aren’t reading at home can lose months of last year’s learning over the summer.

Enter Kids Read. Born of a partnership between philanthropy and the school district, this seven-week summer tutoring program targets students who need extra help to ensure that they don’t suffer summer slide and that they sustain the momentum to stay on grade level when school starts back up in in August. Now in its fourth year, Kids READ has had a 98%‒100% success rate in stemming summer slide for the students who participate. Gulf Coast Community Foundation is grateful to the Keith D. Monda family, Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, and other philanthropists who help make this successful program possible.

Imagine growing from a kindergarten-level reader to the cusp of second-grade level in a matter of weeks. That’s the trajectory a young Venice boy named Dominic is on this summer thanks to Kids READ. And his is not an unusual success story.

This year, seven Kids READ tutors are working directly with 56 students at six partner locations across the county (five Boys & Girls Clubs from North Port to Newtown plus the R.L. Taylor Community Complex in north Sarasota). The teachers reach even more children by filling slots with “back-up” kids who could benefit from some extra help when a scheduled student is absent or off on an enriching field trip.

With stipends paid through Gulf Coast, the highly trained Kids READ teachers meet with their assigned students for 30 minutes of customized one-on-one tutoring four days a week for seven weeks. The teachers also document individual progress and challenges in a detailed folder for each child, which will be given to the incoming student’s new teacher when school starts in the fall. At the Venice Boys & Girls Club, tutor Sarah Hill is working daily with eight children, six of whom (including Dominic) have advanced an entire grade level in just six weeks!

Kids READ is one of several community-based summer-reading programs making a difference for students throughout our community. What sets it apart is decision-making based on real-time school-district data, leveraged investment in exceptionally trained teachers, and documented success developing and sustaining grade-level readers. What dovetails so nicely with reading programs of all stripes is our community’s wonderful commitment to the future of our students and its willingness to invest in them.

Mark S. Pritchett is president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

Photo: Florida Department of Education

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