Giving children a boost in reading

The Winning Reading Boost program fair will take place Jan. 30 at 6 p.m. at Greater Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church, 1045 16th St. S.

 

BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Since last year, the Winning Reading Boost program has been growing in schools throughout the area, and is now holding a volunteer fair to recruit adults who want to make a difference in the lives of young students. The fair will take place at 6 p.m. Jan. 30 at Greater Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church, 1045 16th St. S.

The program incorporates the research-based principles of reading instruction, including phonological awareness, systematic and explicit phonics instruction, fluency and oral reading skills through its use of a multisensory, multimodal approach.

In addition to area elementary schools such as Melrose and Lakewood, the program is now underway at Fairmount Park and Midtown Academy. Initially for third and fourth graders, Winning Reading Boost now includes second graders in Pinellas County.

“We have acquired two additional schools, 75 new students and we have added seven new teachers,” said James Martin, community engagement coordinator at the University of Florida. “We are currently serving 101 students. There are a total of seven separate programs in St. Petersburg and we have four new programs in Alachua County.”

Martin believes improved reading skills promote better behavior in students overall, as they are less likely to be disruptive and more likely to get involved in school and afterschool activities.

Participating children are given a pretest and a posttest once they’ve gone through the reading program, and Martin said the teachers have seen a positive difference in the young readers, who learn from engaging with music, songs, games, charts and appealing stories. Of the hour-long segments, the first 15 minutes involve repetitive, engaging songs while the remaining time is spent applying what the children have learned in the audio-visual segment.

“You can either dance with the child in terms of teaching or you can wrestle with them,” Martin remarked. “Dancing is much more preferable.”

He stressed that volunteers are the key to the program’s success because the children are able to receive one on one service and attention to each student.

“If we have enough volunteers,” Martin noted, “we can place each child with a volunteer instead of having a teacher and five students at a table. The volunteer is there to listen to them read and to ensure that they’re pronouncing the word correctly, that they’re saying it, they’re sounding it and they understand what it means.”

No background in education is necessary to be a volunteer in the program, Martin pointed out, as the program provides an orientation process for them.

“They just need to be someone who likes children, someone who has patience,” he said.

Martin believes that reading is one of the keys to a successful life, and pointed out that a large number of men and women in the prison system, especially those of color, have reading deficiencies.

“Their reading was not comprehensive enough that they could fill out a job application,” he said. “If you can’t fill out a job application, you can’t apply for a job.”

If you are not one who has learned to read well, Martin said, then your options in life are going to be “significantly altered.”

“We believe that when we teach children to read, we have changed their lives forevermore,” he said. “They have acquired a gift that thieves can’t steal and time and circumstance can’t corrupt. Reading will totally change the trajectory of their lives.”

To reach Frank Drouzas, email fdrouzas@theweeklychallenger.com

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