by Rosanna Castro
Just a few months ago, 8-year-old Angelica Aguirre was terrified of reading aloud in class, fearing her classmates would mock her. She even refused to read at home with her mother and believed it was something she simply could not do well.
“Angelica used to always tell me that she hated reading,” recalled Natalia Hoyos, Aguirre's mother.
She struggled so much with reading last year that she failed second grade.
Hoyos was desperate. She decided she needed to get help for her daughter before she continued to fall further behind in school, and that’s when she discovered the Reading Explorers Program .
Managed and operated by the FIU Center for Children and Families in partnership with Nova Southeastern University, the Reading Explorers Program offers services funded by The Children’s Trust to providers and families to help improve foundational reading and reading comprehension skills for rising kindergarten, first and second graders.
Since 2013, the Reading Explorers Program has helped over 10,000 children and families and annually serves more than 2,000 children across Miami-Dade County.
“Research shows that reading at grade level by the third grade is a leading indicator of school success and high school graduation,” said Katie Hart, assistant professor in the FIU Department of Psychology and program director of the Reading Explorers Program. “Unfortunately, 39 percent of kids in Miami-Dade County are not reading at grade level, and we are hoping to change that by helping to boost and improve children’s early reading skills during the summer months when there is typically a learning loss.”
Students reading at or below reading level receive free small group reading tutoring services provided by certified teachers over the summer. The program is tailored to each child’s reading ability. It is structured and interactive, and follows an evidence-based reading curriculum.
The Reading Explorers Program offers parents school readiness workshops focused on encouraging children to read at home every day. It also provides year-round consultation for afterschool care providers that are funded by the Children’s Trust to improve their literacy instruction strategies for all children.
“This is the only program of its kind in the state of Florida and just this summer alone, we provided this program across 70 community sites,” Hart said. “Children reading below grade level have experienced up to 50 percent improvement in their reading skills after completing our program.”
Hoyos was shocked to see how, after a few short weeks of completing the program, Aguirre was reading aloud at home and announcing every time she conquered a “big word.” In fact, she recently asked her mother to pick up some fantasy books from a local bookstore, so they can go on their own book-based adventures.
“Angelica was able to make six months of progress in just six weeks over the summer, which is incredibly remarkable,” Hart said. “We are so happy our program helped Angelica significantly improve in her reading skills in such a short time, but more importantly, that we helped her discover her love for reading and equipped her with the confidence and skills she needs to take on second grade again.”
Hoyos says her daughter's confidence and attitude toward reading has enormously improved, which brings her an indescribable amount of joy. She’s been performing very well so far this school year. She attributes this success to the great work the Summer Reading Explorers Program teachers did and the invaluable guidance they provided.