New Worlds Reading Scholarship Accounts – The New Worlds Reading Initiative works to increase children’s reading skills, one free book at a time
New Worlds Reading Initiative sends one free book per month to children enrolled in the program.
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New Worlds Reading Scholarship Accounts
Welcome to Florida, a podcast showcasing student success, teaching excellence, and ongoing research at the University of Florida.
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If a child can’t read by third grade, there’s a good chance they’ll struggle through the rest of their school years and may not graduate high school down the road. In this episode, Shawnte Duggins talks about Florida’s New Worlds Reading Initiative, based at UF’s Lastinger Center for Learning, and how she hopes to change that trajectory—one book at a time. Produced by Nikki Brown, Brooke Adams, Emma Richards and James L. Sullivan. Original music by Daniel Townsend, PhD student in music composition, College of the Arts.
Nikki Brown: The New York Times recently reported that there is an alarming decline in the math and reading skills of nine-year-olds across the country. But there is hope here in Florida, as our state may be a step forward in taking steps to ensure children are reading at grade level.
Today we’re going to talk about the New Worlds Reading Initiative and how it’s helping families strengthen their children’s literacy skills. This is not the only action the state is taking, but the initiative could be a national model for proactively addressing this problem.
Our guest today is Shonte Duggins, who is the Assistant Director for the Initiative based at the University of Florida’s Lastinger Center for Learning. Welcome, Shonte!
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Shawnte Duggins: Sure. So, the New Worlds Reading Initiative was created by House Speaker Chris Sproles and received unanimous bipartisan support in the Florida Legislature and was signed into law in June 2021. A program designed to accelerate reading and improve literacy for K-5 students in our state who are not yet reading at grade level.
NICKY BROWN: So The New York Times reported earlier this month that newly released national test scores showed the math and reading skills of nine-year-olds by the biggest margin in more than 30 years. Students were tested earlier this year with scores from 2020, which was, of course, before the pandemic. First, why are the literacy and math skills of nine-year-olds, students who are mostly in third or fourth grade, so important?
Shawnte Duggins is the assistant director of the New Worlds Reading Initiative, based at the University of Florida’s Lastinger Center for Learning. Photo: Lastinger Center for Learning.
Shonte Duggins: So we know that the most basic responsibility of schools is to teach children to read. And reading affects every other academic area, but many kids don’t actually develop as proficient readers. So, learning to read effectively has received a lot of attention, as children often struggle in this area, and this has implications not only academically, but economically and later in life.
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Thus, researchers have found that students who are identified as poor readers by the end of first grade rarely achieve average reading proficiency. So the data shows that kids who aren’t reading by third grade are more likely not to graduate from high school. And that’s why effective reading instruction and intervention is really important for young children. And there is this critical transition from learning to read to learning to read. For most children, this usually occurs at the end of third grade, when children are about eight or nine years old. And if kids don’t read well, and that’s understanding what they’re reading, by the time they get to fourth grade, they’re less likely to use their reading skills to actually learn.
NICKY BROWN: So the New York Times cites data, have we seen a similar decline in Florida?
Shawnte Duggins: We actually have. So nationwide, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 34% of fourth graders in 2019 were at or above reading. And only for certain contexts, a qualification represents a solid academic record. So these are the students who reach this level, they are proficient in reading. And again, only 34% in the whole country. For our state of Florida in 2019, 38% of fourth graders were proficient in reading or above. And that compares to 41% in 2017 and 39% in 2015. So we’ve seen a decline, although Florida is doing relatively little better than the nation.
Nicci Brown: Can you share with our listeners how the New Worlds Reading Initiative works and who is eligible, how families can participate, sign up?
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Shawnte Duggins: Sure. So our government is investing in literacy teaching and learning, and the New World Reading Initiative is one such opportunity. So the vision of the New Worlds Reading Initiative is to create home libraries for K-5 students attending public or publicly funded charter schools who are not yet reading at grade level. So that’s our eligibility criteria. So families can go to our website and they can apply, and once eligibility is determined, the book will start shipping to most students in October. And regardless of when eligibility is determined, students typically receive nine books between October and June. So the goal is to build that library back into the home for kids who can’t read at school level yet.
During the registration process, children have the opportunity to choose topics of interest to them and then match the titles of these topics. So they have the opportunity to choose what interests them.
Along with the books we send out, we also offer literacy resources for parents to build their confidence and ability to support their children at home, because we want it to be fun and interesting. We recognize the value of partnerships and that’s why we work with many organizations locally and statewide to raise awareness and support children and families. Then we also added professional development for teachers. So we provide professional development for teachers based on the science of reading through our micro-certificates and professional development for teachers to make that connection in home and school literacy.
We are very grateful to the state that we are a scholarship funding organization, which means that corporate taxpayers can make cash contributions to the University of Florida and receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit against select Florida taxes. So it really owns the initiative of the initial investment made by the state. So we’re very excited that families have the opportunity to get books and that we can provide resources to families as well. And I’ll add that our resources are available in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole, and next year we added braille across the state.
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Nicky Brown: Great. Can we talk a little more about the criteria that make people eligible for this resource?
Shawnte Duggins: Sure. So, for now, the program is available to students in kindergarten through fifth grade who attend a public or publicly funded charter school and who are not yet reading on grade level. So you think of them as students who typically struggle as readers.
The programs allow children to choose books about topics they are interested in, such as STEM, humor, nature, and animals. Photo: New Worlds Reading Initiative
Nicci Brown: I like the fact that you allow students to talk about a topic that interests them. Can you share with us what some of these themes are?
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Shawnte Duggins: Sure. So some of our topics are STEM, humor, nature, animals, and so students can pick three topics that they’re interested in and then we’ll match those books to the topics they’ve chosen.
Nicky Brown: And how do they get the book? Do they send them home or receive them?
Shawnte Duggins: That’s the beautiful part of it. They will deliver directly to your home. So what we’ve heard from families and kids is that they love that aspect. And that’s why they appeal to children, they get it in their mailbox every month. They get their package, open it, and there’s a book and resources for them. So one kid said, “It’s like getting a present in the mail every month.”
Nicky Brown: Excitement. . . Yes, it’s really great! I also think that normalizing reading at home and creating your own special kind of reading and really making it a part of home life. You recently said in an opinion column in the Miami Herald that families should create this type of homeschooling program. can you tell me a little
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