New World Reading Scholarship – New Worlds Reading Initiative works to improve children’s reading skills, one free book at a time
New Worlds Learning Initiative sends one free book per month to children enrolled in the program.
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New World Reading Scholarship
Welcome to the Florida Podcast, which highlights student success, teaching excellence and research. New research that happened at the University of Florida.
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If a child is not reading at his level in third grade, he has a good chance of struggling the rest of the school year and may not graduate from high school. In this episode, Shaunte Duggins talks about the New World Reading Initiative in Florida, based at the Lastinger Learning Center at UF, and how she hopes to change that path—one chapter at a time. Produced by Nixie Brown, Brooke Adams, Emma Richards and James L. Sullivan. Original music by Daniel Townsend, PhD student in music composition at the College of the Arts.
Nicci Brown: The New York Times recently reported that the math and reading skills of nine-year-old children across the country have dropped alarmingly. But there is hope in Florida, as our state may be taking steps to ensure children are learning at grade level.
Today we’re going to talk about the New World Reading Initiative and how it’s helping families improve their children’s literacy. This is not the only measure that the state is taking, but the initiative may be a national example in Solving this problem proactively.
Our guest today is Shawnte Duggins, Assistant Director of Initiatives based at the University of Florida’s Lastinger Learning Center. You are welcome Shawnte!
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Shaunte Duggins: Absolutely. Therefore, the Read New World initiative was created by House Speaker Chris Sprowles and received unanimous bipartisan support in the Florida Legislature and was signed into law in June 2021. Therefore, House Bill 3 created the New World Learning Initiative, and it is statewide. A program designed to accelerate learning and improve literacy for our state’s fifth-grade students who are not yet reading at grade level.
Nixie Brown: So, the New York Times reported earlier this month that newly released national test results show nine-year-olds’ math and reading skills have declined by the largest rate in more than 30 years. Students were tested earlier this year compared to their scores in 2020, of course, before the pandemic. First, why are the literacy and numeracy skills of 9-year-olds, typically 3rd or 4th graders, important?
Shaunte Duggins is the assistant director of the New Worlds Learning Initiative at the University of Florida’s Lastinger Learning Center. Image credit: Lastinger Learning Center.
Shaunte Duggins: So, we know that the primary responsibility of schools is to teach children to read. Reading affects all other academics, but many children do not become proficient readers. A lot of attention has been paid to teaching effective reading, because children often struggle in this area, and this affects not only academically, but also economically and later in life.
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As a result, researchers found that students who were identified as poor readers at the end of first grade rarely achieved average reading skills. Therefore, the data shows that children who do not read at the third grade level do not graduate from high school. That is why effective reading instruction and intervention are so important for children. And there is a significant transition from learning to read to learning to read. For most children, this usually happens at the end of the third grade, when the child is about eight or nine years old. And if children don’t read fluently and understand what they’re reading, by the time they reach fourth grade, they won’t be able to use their reading skills to actually learn.
Nicci Brown: So the data cited by The New York Times, have we seen a similar decline in Florida?
Shaunte Duggins: We have. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2019, only 34 percent of fourth graders were proficient in reading. For some contexts only, expertise refers to reliable academic performance. Therefore, students who have reached this level are proficient in studying. And again, only 34% nationwide. For Florida in 2019, 38% of fourth graders were proficient in reading. This compares to 41% in 2017 and 39% in 2015. So, although Florida is relatively better than the nation, we see a decline.
Nixie Brown: How does the New World Reading Initiative work with our listeners and who can qualify, families can participate, how can they register?
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Shaunte Duggins: Absolutely. Therefore, our state is investing in literacy, and the New World Learning Initiative is one of those opportunities. So the goal of the New World Learning Initiative is to create a home library for fifth-grade students who are not reading on grade level and attend public or community-supported schools. Here are our eligibility criteria. So families can go to our website and they can apply and once the eligibility is determined, the delivery of books will start in October for most students. Regardless of the eligibility period, students usually receive nine books from October to June. Therefore, the goal is to create a home library for children who are not yet reading at grade level.
During registration, children have the opportunity to choose topics they are interested in, and then we match topics with those topics. In this way, they can choose what interests them.
Along with the books we send out, we also provide educational resources for educators to build their confidence and ability to raise their children at home, because we want it to be engaging and fun. We recognize the value of collaboration, which is why we partner with many local and statewide organizations to raise awareness and support children and families. We recently added professional development for teachers. In this way, we provide teacher professional development based on the science of learning through our micro and teacher professional development to create home-school connections around literacy.
We are grateful to the state for being a scholarship funding organization, which means that corporate taxpayers can contribute cash to the University of Florida and receive tax credits for selected Florida taxes. Therefore, it supports initiatives beyond the initial investment by the state. That’s why we’re so excited that families have access to books and that we can provide resources for families as well. I would add that our resources are available in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole, and then we added Braille nationwide this year.
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Nixie Brown: Great. Can we talk a little about the criteria that make people eligible for this resource?
Shaunte Duggins: Absolutely. Therefore, the program is currently available to students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade who attend public or subsidized public schools and who are not yet in grade school. So you often think that it is a difficult reader.
The program allows children to choose books that interest them, such as STEM, humor, nature, and animals. Photo credit: New Worlds Learning Initiative
Nixie Brown: I love that you give students feedback on subjects they are interested in. Can you share with us what some of those subjects are?
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Shaunte Duggins: Absolutely. So, some of our topics include STEM, humor, nature, animals, so students can pick three topics they’re interested in, and then we match those books with the topics they choose.
Nicci Brown: And how did they get the book? Will they be sent home or taken away?
Shaunte Duggins: That’s the beautiful part of it. They will be sent directly to their homes. So what we hear from families and kids is that they love that side. So they are sent to the child, they go to the mailbox every month. They received their package, tore it open, and there were books and resources for them. So, one child said, “It’s like getting a gift in the mail every month.”
Nixie Brown: It’s exciting. . . Yes, it’s really cool! I think it’s normalizing home school and creating a special kind of learning and making it part of home life. He recently argued in an opinion column in the Miami Herald that families should create home school programs. You tell me a little
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