By: Thanh Nguyen
Vista Reading Initiatives Coordinator
A friend stared at me blankly when I told her I am doing research on early grade reading programs for a job. Perhaps that’s because she, like me, had no idea that according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 33% of fourth graders were below a basic level of reading. This is why I am here as VISTA volunteer working for Heart of Florida United Way. I believe that investment in the education of our youth is one of the ways to alleviate poverty in our country.
I was ignorant to the facts and I don’t doubt that there are many others that are unaware of this alarming statistic. Furthermore, many people don’t know how important early grade reading is for future high school success. According to my research:
• Half of the students enrolled in half of Orange County Title I schools fail to reach reading proficiency by the third grade.
• Half of the students enrolled in a quarter of Osceola County Title I schools fail to reach third grade reading proficiency.
• In Seminole county, half of the students enrolled in a fifth of the county’s Title I schools also fail to reach third grade proficiency.
However, I am also finding that there are dozens of reading programs in Seminole, Osceola and Orange County to help combat this problem, although some counties have more programs than others.
• Orange County has 53 reading programs
• Osceola County has 14 reading programs
• Seminole County has 19 reading programs
United Way, with the help of Vista’s like me, is working to help students read on grade level. Just last month, I had the opportunity to participate in our Day of Action where we were able to help distribute over 20,000 books to serve 1,700 students in Central Florida. Through our efforts, we were able to engage 400 volunteers to get students excited about reading through interactive literacy games. This is the type of work that makes me grateful of having the opportunity to work at United Way. #75Days75Ways.