Asena Mott (left), Arcadia Rotary Club education chair and South Florida State College: DeSoto Campus director, and recently-elected DeSoto Superintendent of Schools Bobby Bennett with one of the books provided the Rotary’s Books for Kids program.

ARCADIA — Literacy matters when it comes to a student’s success and it starts with the early grade levels. That’s the aim for Rotary Club of Arcadia with the launch of a Books for Kids program for DeSoto County second-graders.

Throughout December, public elementary school second-graders in DeSoto received a book and letter for their families explaining the program.

“It’s crucial to have a program like this available for our students in DeSoto because many of them do not have home libraries,” said Asena Mott, Rotary education chair and South Florida State College: DeSoto Campus director.

“High-interest books that can be accessed easily are a part of the equation to increasing the love of reading,” Mott continued. “The earlier we can close achievement gaps with our students, the more likely they will move forward as successful students without struggling in reading and learning.”

The Arcadia Rotary Club joined 10 other local Florida Rotary Clubs involved in the program.

Last school year, 120 Books for Kids volunteers helped 2,400 students in two counties and nine schools by distributing 2,500 books a month, according to an Arcadia Rotary press release.

“With more than half of our students in Florida reading below grade level, and DeSoto students falling below the state average, our children are at risk to struggle through learning for years,” John Olin, who spearheaded the program through Arcadia Rotary, told The Daily Sun in an email.

“Improving the literacy of our DeSoto County children is a key to their successful future.”

Books for Kids is just one of the strategies that the Arcadia Rotary Club is using to support DeSoto students in the literacy effort.

This year, several Rotary members have adopted a class and are reading to them, then sending books home with each student.

In addition, DeSoto High School has an Interact Club, sponsored by the Arcadia Rotary. The Interact Club supports the community through various projects. Students can learn skills such as creating a resume, budgeting, supporting the community, how to run a meeting and more.

Rotary also gives scholarships to four local graduating seniors to support them as they continue their education.

DeSoto County’s high school graduation rate was among the lowest in the state in 2017 and 2018 at around 60% both years.

“We’ve known for years that reading was a problem in DeSoto and our high school graduate rates were low,” Olin told The Daily Sun. “The Books for Kids program is designed to get the attention of parents that haven’t been paying attention.”


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