Education

Find out how to become a Reading Pal

Dan Barnes is an ECARE Reading Pal, here reading at McMillan Prek Center. Credit: ECARE.

Reading is the building block of a child’s educational journey.

But not every child in Escambia County enters school with the same tools to be ready to learn to read. That’s where ECARE aims to step in and help.

Kindergarten readiness is an important measurement of how well-prepared a child is for school. According to data from the Florida Office of Early Learning, 34 percent of Escambia County children are not ready.

This deficiency often continues and correlates closely to the 27 percent of Escambia students who do not graduate from high school with their peers. Kindergarten readiness is part of the Pensacola Metro Dashboard, a set of 16 metrics developed by the University of West Florida and Studer Community Institute to track the economic, educational and social well-being of the community.

ReadingPals is ECARE’s school-based mentoring program that helps prekindergarten students build the strong literacy skills necessary for success. Trained volunteers use themed literacy kits that include books, manipulatives, puzzles and games that they share with their 4-year-old reading “pal.” By supporting children during formative years, you can help prepare them for a successful future.

ECARE also works with the Escambia School District in Wee Read, a program that provides professional development for child care providers to give them the tools they need to be good teachers.

The nonprofit also sponsors Family Night events, which bring families together to help coach parents on how to make reading fun at home.

This year, ECARe had volunteers is six locations: Global Learning Academy, C.A. Weis Elementary, Montclair Elementary, A Top Notch Christian Academy, McMillan Prek Center and Head Start.

This year, United Way and ECARE partnered to obtain an $85,000 grant from Carol Barnett, President of Publix Super Markets Charities, and her husband Barney, who have funded Reading Pals programs at 15 United Ways across Florida. This grant has provided additional support and funding to impact 200 children this year in 14 classrooms.

To help ECARE meet its need for volunteers, United Way of Escambia County is helping to host informational sessions about becoming a Reading Pal.

ECARE has tracked the VPK assessments for children with Reading Pals to see what impact the program makes. All made progress.

ECARE tracks the progress of students in the Reading Pals program.

ECARE tracks the progress of students in the Reading Pals program.

Informational sessions will be held in United Way’s Community Room at 1301 W. Government St. The dates and times for these sessions are:

— Wednesday, July 13 at 5:30 to 6 pm
— Friday, July 15 at 11 to 11:30 a.m.
— Tuesday, July 19 at 8 to 8:30 a.m.
— Wednesday, July 27 at 5:30 to 6 p.m.
— Wednesday, Aug 3 at 8 to 8:30 a.m.

According to United Way, this past school year, 227 volunteers donated 3,827 hours as ReadingPals. A total of $1,347 in supplies were also given to support the program. In total, ReadingPals returned a $89,641 impact on our community in the 2015-2016 school year.

If the growing attention focused on the importance of early education has you wondering what you can do to help, this is something you can do to help.

For more information about ReadingPals or to volunteer, call United Way at (850) 434-3157 or email readingpals@unitedwayescambia.org.