The Headline is Simple: An Hour a Week Can Change a Life

By Guest Bloggers, The Children’s Movement.  Few indicators are more illustrative of a child’s past and his or her future than the ability of that child to read by the end of third grade. That is the point, as so many of us have come to know, when a child is no longer learning to read, but, rather, reading to learn. And it is a blend of high-quality early education, caring and knowledgeable parents, and access to a medical home that ensure that the child reaches the end of third grade reading. Sadly, if that child does not have those fundamental basics — and reaches the end of third grade still unable to read — he or she will be four times more likely to drop out before graduating from high school.

So, if we know the research — and we understand the importance of early literacy — how do we (as a state) accept the fact that 43 percent of our public school third graders cannot read at grade level? There’s a very real disconnect, and that is why organizations such as the Florida Children’s Council, The Children’s Movement of Florida and others are pushing for increased investment in the early years of children’s lives.

But beyond the policy and the politics of Tallahassee, The Children’s Movement believes that the answer to many of the problems our state faces in the way of literacy begins with a community conversation about the challenges, the opportunities and the needs. That is why The Movement and United Way, in conjunction with numerous local and statewide partners and Carol and Barney Barnett, have launched ReadingPals, a statewide early literacy initiative focused on engaging, training and deploying volunteers in 10 Florida regions to increase the number of students who are reading at grade level by the end of third grade. Working with local school districts, Women’s Leadership Councils, Early Learning Coalitions, Children’s Services Councils and others, this initiative focuses on engaging students from pre-school to third grade in the lower-performing schools, and providing them with individualized tutoring sessions over the course of 25 weeks, support for parents and books to begin building at-home libraries.

Each week, volunteers in each of the 10 selected regions entered classrooms in pre-K centers, public schools and afterschool programs to read with one, two or three children in a highly individualized setting. For many of the teachers, these volunteers were a much-needed resource. And, for many of the volunteers, the hour with “their children” was the highlight of the week. Much was learned in Year One — and there was much to be celebrated. More than 1,700 volunteers trained and deployed. 25,500 volunteer hours donated. More than 3,000 students mentored and tutored. And our goals for Year Two will ensure that ReadingPals has an even greater impact on children across our state.

The headline is simple: An hour a week can change a life. Might you join us as a ReadingPal? To learn more and sign up, please visit us online at