Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We have selected community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to talk about issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.
The YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg collaboration with local educators, volunteers and donors to address the issue of children’s literacy through YReads! program has been developing for over a decade. The success of the program is an example of the significant impact that the community response can have in meeting a societal need.
Reading is an essential part of childhood development, and one in three American children enter kindergarten without the language skills they need to learn to read. Reading proficiency in grade three is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success. In the United States, about two-thirds of children each year and 80% of those living below the poverty line fail to develop their reading skills by the end of third grade.
The YRead! program in our community started with one school and has now expanded to cover 14 schools in Pinellas County. The mission of this free program is to enable at-risk and disadvantaged children, regardless of race, economic status or ability, to increase their reading skills through structured after-school reading instruction and mentoring. This early intervention program improves students’ reading skills through the use of a research and data-driven curriculum. It also helps students achieve or maintain satisfactory school attendance and behavior, two essential ingredients for academic success.
Typically, K-8 students scoring the bottom 25% of Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) / English Language Arts (ELA) scores are referred by teachers to work with the YMCA team in small groups. or one-on-one for two one-hour sessions once a week. The program focuses on phonemic awareness, visual word recognition, fluency, comprehension and vocabulary expansion. Above all, it aims to make reading fun to inspire learning and help students grow.
Attendance is a measure of the success of the program, and last school year (2020-2021) 97% of students attended YReads! regularly. Additionally, the latest YMCA program diagnostic tests and evaluations performed before the Covid-19 pandemic showed that more than 90% of program participants improved their reading skills.
This level of impact has only been possible through investment from community-minded organizations, including the Juvenile Welfare Board (JWB) and the Florida State Alliance of YMCA. The Raymond James Foundation, Jabil, Lightning Foundation, and the Lightning Community Heroes program have also supported the program over the past year.
With such philanthropic support, the goal is to help more than 550 students advance this academic year. An essential element to achieve this – and to complement the community collaboration aspect of YReads! – is the important role that volunteers play in the program. Volunteers are needed, for as little as two hours per week, to serve as reading mentors. Y staff provide all training and ongoing support to help volunteers play a practical role in developing students’ positive self-esteem and improving their academic performance. It is an opportunity to give a child access to the world of possibilities that reading offers.
Click here to volunteer and help children in your community learn to read. Or contact Michelle Curtis, Head of Development Office at YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg to find out how you can help support YReads!
Kim Lohrey is the director of literacy at the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg. A certified elementary school teacher with a master’s degree in reading, she is dedicated to educating the child as a whole by focusing on the technical, social and emotional aspects of reading skills.