BRADENTON, FL (WWSB) - Half of the students in Manatee County Elementary Schools are reading below grade level.
To help improve these staggering statistics, the district partnered with the Manatee Community Education Foundation, the University of South Florida and United Way to launch an initiative called "Soar in 4."
The program's main goal is to have all of its students proficient in reading by the end of third grade.
Tuesday evening, Soar in 4 held the second of several week long events inside the South Florida Museum.
Families participated in a series of activities that not only taught the students the tools they need to succeed, but the parents, too.
"In every nook and crevice of the museum, you'll see learning engagements going on with magnetic letters and numbers and movement and music and bringing stories to life," explained Sheila Halpin, Soar in 4 instructional specialist. "The families are learning how to duplicate that at home."
More than 80 percent of children in low income families nationwide aren't hitting their third grade reading mark.
In Manatee County, the statistics are nearly as alarming.
"Only about 50 percent of our third graders are reading proficiently by the end of third grade," said Halpin. "So that's why the campaign came into existence nationwide, because it was just an epidemic."
The Campaign for Grade Level Reading is a national effort to ensure more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared. But research shows a lot of that starts at an earlier age at home, which is where Soar in 4 comes in.
"We did a program for our 4-year-olds that mentored the families of incoming preschoolers all summer long," said Halpin.
It started at Sea Breeze Elementary School and has since grown to a total of six Title I schools in Manatee County.
Parents and teachers said the success rate is already showing in the students participating.
"I can remember when we started off, when she was at a lower level and now she's at a higher level and it's very fun, very awesome to watch her grow in that," said Julianne Rosato, a parent with a daughter in Soar in 4. "In order to get to a third grade reading level in third grade, you have to start somewhere."
"I've been with them all year," said Luanne Howe, early learning specialist for the Manatee County School Board. "You can see how tall they've gotten. You can see how eager they are to participate. You can also how much they've gained!"
For more information about the initiative, how to donate or how to get a child in the Manatee County school system involved, visit the Soar in 4 website by clicking here.
Copyright 2018 WWSB. All rights reserved.