Near the beginning of our journey through COVID-19, Beth Duda approached me with her vision for a virtual summer reading program to align with social distancing guidelines. As the director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, Beth’s innovation in the midst of a crisis and her enthusiasm and commitment to our region’s aspiring readers came as no surprise to me.
The program, This Bool is Cool!, is a series of 100 webisodes with Beth Duda as the host designed to engage children and encourage a love of reading. Each webisode features a special guest from the community and a featured book, perfect for the various grade levels being targeted. My role as special guest discussing “Sheep in a Jeep,” by Nancy Shaw, debuted this week. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t end well for the Jeep!)
United Way of Charlotte County serves as the lead agency for our local campaign for grade-level reading, supporting efforts to increase the percentage of Charlotte County students who can read on grade level by the end of third grade. Those students who do not meet this goal lag behind their peers and can fall further behind year after year. Based on 2019 FSA scores, 69 percent of Charlotte County students could read on grade level by the end of third grade. All of our community partners are devoted to 100 percent student success.
Reading bedtime stories together benefits your children in multiple ways. The bond you build while laughing over the sheep requesting help from the pigs, or any fictional dilemma, can last a lifetime. Ask your kids to predict what will happen next. In books that rhyme, like “Sheep in a Jeep,” ask your kids what word they think will come next. Discuss the ups and downs of the emotions the sheep must be feeling through their short journey. All these conversation points can help your child beyond simply growing a love for reading.
Of course, don’t save reading for bedtime. Reading can take place throughout the day — reading the cereal box in the morning, reading the signs at the grocery store, reading the names of streets when you are driving. And choose a variety of book types – picture books, nonfiction books, comic books.
The program began June 1, but there is still time to enroll your children. Those who qualify for the program will receive up to 20 free books. Those who do not meet the program qualifications are still able to watch the webisodes online and try out the suggested activities related to each featured book. For more information, please call the United Way of Charlotte County at 941-627-3539. Mission: Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty.
Angie Matthiessen is the executive director of the United Way of Charlotte County.