Read to Learn: Growing Our Literacy Tree
Read to Learn, a literacy initiative spearheaded by The Children's Trust and fostered in collaboration with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the County Library System, United Way of Miami-Dade, and other partners, aims to significantly increase the number of third-graders in Miami-Dade County who read at or above grade level and to encourage an appreciation of reading across all sectors of the community. The seed of the initiative was launched in September 2011 at a community-wide summit as part of our commitment to the Campaign for Grade Level Reading (GLR)/All-American City competition. Since that launch, the Read to Learn tree has continued to grow, strengthening existing and sprouting new literacy branches throughout the community.
As a result of our commitment to GLR, The Children’s Trust has deepened its roots to better support literacy and reading in our many existing funded programs and services. We have forged new liaisons, increased communications, and – buoyed with heightened awareness – we are partnering in new and innovative ways. As a result, Read to Learn is stretching further across the county to reach more and more children.
The GLR campaign helped us to focus our efforts on the three pillars: school readiness, chronic absence, and summer learning loss.
The Trust has long placed emphasis on reaching children early. Whether through family coaches that visit a young family’s home or through Quality Counts, our initiative which seeks to professionalize the childcare industry and lift the quality of centers, we have committed ourselves to encouraging early childhood reading. The Read to Learn Book Club, which launched in 2012, is a prime example. Administrated by the Miami-Dade Family Learning Partnership, the Book Club delivers a free book monthly (in English or Spanish) to the homes of all registered 3-year-olds in the county. To date 8,714 have enrolled.
We have increased our efforts to educate more parents in the art of reading aloud so they can be their children’s best “first teacher”; and, our efforts have been sensitive to the different languages and cultures in our community. We have revamped our Service Partnerships, an initiative that coordinates a range of needed services for families within targeted neighborhoods, to include greater emphasis on parental engagement and local needs, especially in terms of reducing chronic absenteeism.
We have significantly increased public awareness efforts around GLR in our electronic and printed publications, article placements, our own TV talk show, sponsored TV and radio segments, social and outdoor media, at our annual signature events, and more. With the recent completion of new broadcast and print features promoting regular school attendance, we have now produced multi-lingual, multi-layered campaigns around all three pillars of the GLR effort that are receiving exposure through major media buys.
Read to Learn Books for Free, another branch of the growing tree, places bookshelves stocked with new and gently used age-appropriate books in highly visited locations in neighborhoods where books are not as accessible to many children. These locations include government benefits offices, low-income housing sites, health clinics, and others. Children are urged to take and keep one book from the shelf to help build their home library. The constant supply of books comes from year-round book donation drives throughout the community, in neighborhoods and businesses with large concentrations of more affluent residents or employees who have books to give. The program is administered by The Center for Literature and Theatre at Miami Dade College, the organizers of one of the largest and most prestigious book fairs in the country.
Our collaboration and increased dialogue with the public school system has been one of the most positive developments of our effort. Communication and liaison have improved significantly with MDCPS. We continue to work together, meeting at a number of different levels to determine what support the schools need and in what ways we might collaborate. With the district’s help and input we are much better positioned to target support to those schools, designated as Early Transformation Office (ETO) schools, and neighborhoods most in need of reading services support.
Since our involvement, we have brought considerable awareness to the fact that too many children in our community do not read sufficiently well. While we have not as yet settled on a single, specific course of action, we have advanced an array of components as part of a broad strategy for the initiative. Our tree has sprouted a multitude of branches, each helping to promote literacy and to help young struggling readers so that by the time they reach third grade they will read proficiently.
At the community level, we solicited volunteers to comprise task forces focused on the separate pillars and used their input to help generate our strategy. Ideas were shared at several literacy summits. At the beginning of 2013, we held a series of community forums in targeted neighborhoods, seeking to generate support and to mobilize parents and families to “pick up the baton.” These sessions were relatively well-attended and participants appeared motivated; we are considering the next best step to take in this part of the process.
One of the newest components of our effort, Summer Reading Explorers, helps to address summer learning loss and in many ways exemplifies what we’ve learned through Read to Learn. Explorers is a pilot program, funded by The Children’s Trust and managed by the Center for Children and Families at Florida International University and by Hope for Miami, which uses three different models to determine which is most successful, based on cost and research, at improving the reading skills of youngsters identified as struggling readers. In one model, certified teachers tutored four days a week, half-hour daily, for six weeks; in another, trained volunteers tutored; and thirdly, parents were instructed on how to read to their children and engage in their learning. A lottery system was used to determine which of the three models would be used at the 74 sites this first year. The FIU Center shared their expertise in research, organization and management; Hope for Miami, a local nonprofit, recruited and managed the volunteer pool; and the school system helped to identify the sites located closest to failing schools.
As we seek to make Miami-Dade County a literate community, we are making presentations to numerous chambers of commerce, business development organizations, and individual corporations, to obtain their support by offering a menu of options that range from hosting book drives to financial commitments and sponsorships.
The Children’s Trust is a dedicated source of funding for children, an independent special taxing district and a major funder in Miami-Dade County. For more than a decade we have funded an array of programs, services and initiatives that benefit children and families in the community. In launching the Read to Learn effort we have engaged the community in ways we hope will be sustained for years to come, while encouraging the notion that all community partners have ownership of the initiative. We respect that organizations and entities of much longer standing than The Children’s Trust have done their best for decades to support literacy and reading. Our thrust has been to spark new collaborations, recognizing that the success of Read to Learn is dependent on everyone’s cooperation.
Read to Learn in many ways resembles our exotic local tree – the Royal Poinciana. Our initiative, like this magnificent tree with its brilliant fire-red flowers and branches arching in many different directions, is helping to increase awareness for literacy in a multitude of ways and also supporting the global community effort to encourage more proficient young readers, especially by the critical third-grade juncture.