At the Englewood Elementary YMCA Reads! program, 98% of students showed an increase in i-Ready scores, and all grade levels gained an average of 1.5 academic years of growth. At Myakka River Elementary, 100% of kids in the program had increased reading scores.
An out-of-school reading remediation program in Sarasota and Charlotte counties is helping kids catch up on more than a year of school in just weeks.
YMCA Reads!, an intensive literacy mentoring reading program offered at Englewood Elementary and Myakka River Elementary by The SKY Family YMCA, targets at-risk and low-income kids in kindergarten through third-grade. Results show the students are walking away with, on average, 1.5 years of improvement.
The program is free for students who are referred by their teachers, based on low reading scores on the i-Ready assessment.
"We're starting with students in maybe the 15th percentile," said Mandy Boots, coordinator at Englewood Elementary. "We ask the teachers for the bottom 25 percentile of reading scores, and then it's our job to either get them to that 50% or pass to the 75%."
The program is funded by a grant from the Florida Department of Education, and the YMCA matches the amount. The statewide program received a $764,972 grant from the FL Department of Education this year for the 17 public schools that offer the program. The Myakka River program received $45,700, and Englewood received $48,251. The grant is only renewed each year if the students show learning gains.
At Englewood Elementary, 98% of students in the program showed an increase in i-Ready scores, and all grade levels gained an average of 1.5 academic years of growth. At Myakka River Elementary, 100% of kids in the program had increased reading scores.
"Our kids are one to two years behind on grade-level reading, that's why they're getting referred. We make a lot of gains in progress and catch them up that extra year too," Boots said. "It's effective and is helping with the summer slide — that three to six months learning loss on average over the summer."
The curriculum is based on SIPPS (Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words), a well-researched reading program.
"The beautiful thing about it is we test each child when they come in, and we put them at their level, so whatever deficiencies they have, we catch them, and we teach them," said Amy Morales, coordinator at Myakka River Elementary. "They will make a gain."
There are 15 volunteer mentors at the Englewood program and 41 at the Myakka River program.
"The volunteers are a big part of it too— it's intergenerational programming. It's as good for the volunteers as it is for the students," Boots said.
The program is offered during the school year, and over the summer, Englewood and Myakka River's programs are combined and taught over the course of three weeks at SKY Academy in Englewood. The summer version is open to the community and offered for $40 a week for kids who are not referred based on reading scores. Kids from Venice Elementary, Lamarque Elementary School, and Vineland Elementary School are participating in the summer program this year, and there is a waiting list.
"I'd call Y-Reads! the best-kept secret in the state of Florida," Morales said. "So few schools have it, and it's a shame. I wish every school did."
This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.