The Gulf is warm, the days are long and the Shake Pit is waiting. Most school classrooms are empty for a while. Summer is in full swing, and everything is good.
During this more relaxed time, something else typically happens. Many children from low-income families lose more than two months in reading achievement.
The cumulative results of this have been devastating to their individual success and potentially to Manatee County’s future.
But this summer, a wave of energy has rolled in to change this reality with purposeful planning and participation from a community that truly cares.
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Here are four partnership-based summer programs making a big impact for our kids:
Dive Into Reading
John and Amanda Horne’s decision to use Anna Maria Oyster Bar as a unique tool to combat summer learning loss has been a game-changer in the way businesses lead. Dive Into Reading leverages community volunteers, certified teachers, and of course, great restaurant food.
In the pilot program last year, students averaged a 1.2-month gain in reading over the
summer, receiving recognition from the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation and a $10,000 award that was reinvested in this summer’s program.
This year, nearly five times as many children participated at five locations. Rising second and third graders read thousands of books and learned essential social skills, including how to order from a menu in a restaurant.
Many people took time to share the call for volunteers, filling slots up to three days per week at each location of Anna Maria Oyster Bar, at Gecko’s and the South Florida Museum (with food provided by O’Bricks and Pier 22). Local businesses even offered their staff members paid time to volunteer as readers.
The Dive Into Reading Fund of Manatee Community Foundation provides a way for donors to support this work in future years.
Suncoast Summer Book Challenge
Throughout the county, a cadre of individuals and institutions including summer camp providers, libraries, and teaching artists are working collaboratively to motivate children to read by participating in the Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading’s Suncoast Summer Book Challenge led by The Patterson Foundation.
The emphasis is cultivating a love of reading, increasing students’ reading skills, and encouraging parents and families to get involved.
In June, Manatee County students read more than 21,000 books. Each time a child completes a book, they are awarded a colorful bracelet — and believe me, kids love them. They are visible badges of accomplishment. I even ordered some for my niece in Texas to encourage her to read this summer. (It’s possible I may order some for myself.)
United Way Reading Room
One of the best ways to overcome transportation, attendance and trust barriers is to offer programming on site. United Way Suncoast has developed an innovative model called a “reading room,” in full swing this summer at La Mirada Apartments where many low-income families live.
With the support of local foundations, individual givers, volunteers and community partnerships, thirty kids ages 3 to 12, are receiving 175 hours of free, high quality summer programming in a technology, book and Lego filled reading room.
Curriculum is focused on weekly themes supporting literacy and science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). Building connections among parents is another critical component of the program, enabling adults to connect with each other for child care, transportation and other needs that arise outside of the program.
Soar in 4
Created by Manatee County Schools, Soar in 4 is working to ensure that pre-K students and their families have a positive, successful launch to school.
Inevitably, the work leads to better attendance in school — a critical component of success — and the likelihood that summer learning will take place in future years.
The South Florida Museum is hosting five play-based evenings for families to build relationships with their child’s classroom teacher, to understand classroom expectations, and to support learning together so that the family and their students are ready and prepared to start school. One-on-one family coaching and goal setting between the parent and their child’s pre-K teacher offers invaluable support and connection to resources.
The Soar in 4 Fund of Manatee Community Foundation still has dollar for dollar matching funds available for components of the programming, including year-long work that will continue in six schools, thanks to the generosity of visionary donors Steve and Carolyn Roskamp. ArtCenter Manatee, Forty Carrots Family Center and others stepped up and also said yes to helping
Many individuals and partners are supporting one or more of these four summer initiatives with time or money. Each contributor realized it was possible to be part of a solution. And so they acted — the best way to ensure a different and more acceptable outcome for our children and our county’s future.
Susie Bowie is the executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation, a charitable foundation that strengthens the community through philanthropy, education and service — for now and for the future. Email: SBowie@ManateeCF.org. Phone: 941-747-7765.