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Gift Of Reading: Syesha donates $25K for reading program at Daughtrey

MANATEE — Syesha Mercado, the Sarasota songstress who last year was a runner-up during the popular TV show “American Idol,” has donated $25,000 worth of equipment to a local school for a program in which children learn to read with musical help from a computer.

About 100 students in an after-school tutoring program at Blanche H. Daughtrey Preparatory School of Arts & Sciences — where Mercado once was a student — will participate in a study of the program’s effectiveness, officials said Wednesday during a presentation.

It entails collaboration among the school, the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and Carlo Franzblau, the software developer. He is also founder and chief executive officer of Electronic Learning Products Inc., of Tampa.

“It is a program that started out to help people learn how to sing, karaoke-style,” said Christopher Rivera, media specialist and technological contact at the school.

Under the software program, called TUNEin to Reading, children sit at a computer station, equipped with a microphone and headsets, and sing along as words play repetitively across a video screen in rhythm with music.

“They’ll see the word and sing it. They think they’re playing a game or learning how to sing, so they sing along, learning to read,” Rivera said, adding that the kids really enjoy it.

Researchers will evaluate whether the program produces quantifiable improvement in reading ability over a nine-week period.

In controlled studies done over the past four years, the results have proven very positive, said Susan P. Homan, professor of childhood education and literacy studies at USF’s Tampa campus.

Franzblau, who developed TUNEin to Reading, said it grew out of a similar venture, Singing Coach, which was designed to help people to learn to sing on key.

One of his Singing Coach clients reported that her young daughter had been using the program and that her reading ability improved dramatically, Franzblau said.

This month, his company is launching a home edition of the reading product, and Mercado agreed to help with an infomercial, he said. But she was unable to be at the school Wednesday because she is on tour, he said.

Mercado donated her entire fee for the infomercial with instructions that it supply Daughtrey with software and other equipment for the reading program, Franzblau said.

She even tried it out.

“She did use it,” said Franzblau. “She said, ‘Oh, wow! It’s music! Oh, wow! It’s kids!’ ”