ReadingPals volunteers teach kids to read

Program increases children's chances of success later in life

MIAMI – Studies show reading to a child before he or she enters kindergarten can improve their chances of success later in life. That's why volunteers with the United Way's ReadingPals program are so passionate, and believe books can save lives.

"Research shows that children who enter kindergarten ready to learn have a greater chance of graduating and becoming successful adults later on in life," said Sandra Rodriguez with the United Way of Miami-Dade.

ReadingPals is a program of the United Way of Miami-Dade, made possible through the support of the Carol and Barney Barnett Foundation. The program pairs an adult volunteer with two pre-Kindergarten (VPK) students, who meet once a week for a half hour of reading.

Teachers choose students to be in the program for a variety of reasons. Some children might need special attention, or are behind their peers in academics or they might lack one-on-one interaction at home.

According to the United Way of Miami-Dade, 100 percent of ReadingPals students met or exceeded the VPK Assessment, which tests pre-K students for print knowledge skills.

Even though most ReadingPals students began last school year with lower VPK assessment scores, they gained a lot, with end-of-the year VPK assessment scores that are within 1 percent of their peers.

John Callaway, who has volunteered to be a ReadingPal the last three years, believes in the power of reading.

"I grew up in a household of readers and I am a beneficiary of having started to read early," Callaway said.

Miami resident Magdiel Cortez said his son, also named Magdiel, has made great strides. Cortez, whose first language is Spanish, said his son is even helping him become a better reader in English.

"Now he's more confident doing the reading by himself," Cortez said.

In fact, the younger Magdiel is now in kindergarten, and can read on his own.

Miami-Dade Schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho said programs like ReadingPals are making a difference in his district, where about a third of kids are living in poverty.

"Certainly the headlines across our community about our young people are often quite negative and depressing. You know, thank God for good initiatives in our community -- initiatives like ReadingPals," Carvalho said.

More volunteers for the ReadingPals program are needed for the 2016-2017 school year.

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