Reading volunteers needed

Margarita Cambest

News Chief

Aug 15, 2012

WINTER HAVEN - About 50 more volunteers are needed to get East Polk County children ready to read.

ReadingPals is a pilot program at six elementary schools for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students who are deemed at risk of reading below level. The children will receive tutoring to supplement the instruction they receive from the Polk County School District.

Alta Vista, Auburndale Central, Lake Shipp, North Lakeland, Purcell and James E. Stephens Elementary schools were selected by the School Board as part of the pilot program.

About 75 volunteers have already signed up, mostly from the Lakeland and Mulberry areas.

More are needed from East Polk.

"Some kids have already started reading a little bit. Some can't say their names in a sentence," said Penny Borgia, chief operating officer of United Way of Central Florida.

"How does that teacher meet the needs of everyone? Schools just can't do it alone," she said. "Some of them have never had a story read to them. You have to practice a skill to learn it."

ReadingPals, a part of United Way of Central Florida's Early Literacy Initiative, is sponsored by a $3 million donation to 10 Florida regions from Carol Jenkins Barnett, chairman and president of Publix Super Markets Charities, and Publix Vice Chairman Barney Barnett.

The first volunteer training session is scheduled to begin Aug. 22 but ReadingPals will accept volunteers throughout the school year. The curriculum was developed in partnership with Polk County schools and United Way of Central Florida.

The program is to begin Sept. 4. Teaching experience is not required but volunteers must pass a background check and make a commitment for the school year.

"We're hoping to have volunteers from all walks of life. We'd like to see policemen, firemen, bankers and lawyers," said Karyn Rubel, director of United Way of Central Florida Women's Leadership Council.

The council has been tapped with the job of finding volunteers and community sponsors.

Target, the Ledger Media Group and Publix have already signed on, she said, with talks in the works for other sponsors.

"Our goal is to really change (the children's) lives and make a difference," Rubel said.

Children will be placed into groups of three and meet with their volunteers twice a week for 30-minute tutoring sessions.

Activities centered on the week's chosen book will reinforce the material.

For "The Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats, a book that stays true to its name and focuses on snowy weather, children will have a chance to touch and feel mittens.

"For most kids in Florida that's something they have never worn," Borgia said.

"When you can make something real in a child's life it helps them to remember. We try to make things as concrete as we possibly can."

This initiative is a partnership between local United Ways, local school districts, Early Learning Coalitions, Children's Services Councils and The Children's Movement of Florida, according to a press release.