Statewide initiative provides free books to students who need help with reading – Sun Sentinel

Elementary students in South Florida who are struggling to keep up with their reading levels are now getting a boost.

the New Worlds Reading Initiative is the result of legislation passed in Florida in 2021 who created a statewide effort to help the more than 550,000 elementary school students who read below grade level. The project is based on a free book delivery program advancing literacy and the love of reading.

Since last December, the program has enrolled more than 100,000 Florida students to receive a new book, which is delivered monthly to their homes.

The project is administered by the University of Florida Lastinger Learning Centerwho selected School as a partner in the book delivery initiative. Already, more than 300,000 books have been distributed.

When a family enrolls in the program, they can choose topics that interest their child. A book is sent to the child each month of the school year according to the subjects chosen and in the language of his choice.

Leaders from the Lastinger Center for Learning weighed in on being chosen to lead the statewide effort and their hopes for the new initiative’s potential impact.

Philip Poekert, director of the centre, said he is passionate about what he hopes to achieve with the free book scheme.

“It’s exciting that we’ve enrolled over 100,000 students in just a few months since we started,” he said.

Part of Poekert’s excitement is that they were recognized on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives for a bill passed unanimously and bipartisanly.

“It’s really great to be a part of something that’s so widely embraced by Floridians across the state,” he said.

Poekert said he was focused on more than performance.

“We want to give children books that will make them excited and eager to read more,” he said. “We know that energy, eagerness and enthusiasm will keep them going even when they struggle. We also want to create a bond between students and their families, as they can enjoy reading the new books together. »

Another part of the initiative is to go beyond book distribution to create literacy resources, such as tutoring assistance, that support students and their families. This is part of efforts to be undertaken later this year by the Lastinger Center, Poekert said.

Paige Pullen, the center’s academic director, said she had a similar passion for the initiative. But she said she realizes it needs to be part of a larger effort to raise the bar for literacy performance in Florida.

“What we want to do is continue to work with the Department of Education, teachers, and parents to make sure we offer a comprehensive program called ‘Vision for a Literate Florida,'” she said. declared. “The vision is to ensure that every student in our schools receives high quality instruction every day from a teacher who understands how to teach reading well.”

Shaunte Duggins, the initiative’s new deputy director, said it was not easy to ensure that all pupils who needed the books got them.

“The simple act of delivering books to children sounds simple enough, but it’s actually a very complex endeavor,” she said. “There is nothing on this scale happening. We know there are over 550,000 eligible students, and our goal is to reach as many students and families as possible. We really want to reach all students in our state, especially those who may be harder to reach. »

Duggins said the Lastinger Center partners with a number of organizations across Florida, both state and local, including school districts, educators, individual schools as well as families, to ensure that the resources actually reach them.

Mildred Grimaldo, Director of Literacy for Broward County Schoolssaid the county is working to get students reading proficiently before third grade, which aligns with the goals of the new statewide effort.

“I love the New Worlds Reading Initiative,” she said. “This is the first time I’ve seen the state government really think about how to get books into the hands of our children. It’s done in a way that the books are delivered directly to the children who get them. absolutely need.

Grimaldo explained that identifying underachieving students in reading goes beyond a score on a test.

“We actually look at a lot of different factors and then we use that information. Once we identify the students, only those students are invited to participate in the reading program at each school,” she said.

Grimaldo said there are 143 public schools and centers in Broward, but many other charter schools also participate. She also said it is essential to reach children when they are young.

“I am pleased that through this initiative the state is supporting our vision of getting students to read at their grade level,” Grimaldo said. “The only way to do this is for us all to come together to make it happen.”

Kellee Henton is a mother who is already excited about the impact of the New Worlds Reading Initiative. Her daughter, Kahleah, is in third grade at Hollywood Hills Elementary and is enrolled in the free book program.

Henton was a middle school reading teacher for 16 years in Fort Myers. Then she moved to Broward, her home county, to continue teaching for six years.

“This program is awesome,” Henton said. “I’m obviously a big advocate for reading. I have been an avid reader all my life since childhood. I went to college to study English because I loved reading so much. And here I am today, trying to encourage my children. When this program started, I was excited, especially for my daughter.

She said she is thrilled that there is statewide support to help young people like her daughter become more engaged in reading.

“Just knowing there’s a group out there that encourages kids to read and encourages them to have cool new books in their hands is so awesome,” she said. “Children don’t want old second-hand books. My children are enthusiastic about books because they are theirs. It makes a difference for them.

Although Henton’s daughter is the one enrolled in the program, she said her son also benefits. When Kahleah recently received a book that contained the story of a young sportsman, her brother “borrowed” the book from her and now he keeps it on his desk at school to reread in his spare time.

Kaleah will continue to get free books throughout elementary school.

“I love that my parents don’t always have to buy me books,” she says. “I can receive them by post. It’s also fun. It makes me want to read more because they are mine. I like to read all kinds of books.

Kahleah said she believes the initiative will also help other children. She said she reads more now that she gets her own books, rather than just borrowing them from her mother’s library.

“When I get a book in the mail with my name on it on the box, I feel special,” she smiles.

One indicator that the book program has had an impact, Henton said, is that Kaleah has now been on the honor roll at Hollywood Hills for three quarters of this school year.

“My daughter is a struggling reader, so being part of this program is awesome,” she said. “The book program encouraged Kahleah to read, which improved her whole life. For her now, feeling comfortable enough to just pick up a book sent to her has changed her. Now she’s like, ‘Hey mom, I’m going to sit down and read. It didn’t happen before.

To register, parents must visit to know the program. Any parent or caregiver who has further questions about program eligibility should contact their child’s teacher.

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