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A new school year is under way for children throughout Florida and everyone — whether student, parent or teacher — is adapting to new people, new lessons and new routines. One item that should be on families’ to-do list as they settle in for the year: Developing a plan for at-home learning.

Our schools serve students, guiding them through the development of both learning and life skills from preschool to 12th grade. However, schools don’t work alone. Learning begins at home, where caregivers are a child’s first and most important teacher. Families need resources to support children’s learning outside of school, particularly when it comes to reading — a foundational skill that has ripple effects throughout students’ lives, both in their educational years and beyond. Data show that children who are not reading on level by grade 3 are more likely to not graduate from high school. This fact is part of the impetus behind the New Worlds Reading Initiative, a statewide effort to provide Florida families with the resources they need to boost their children’s reading skills.

Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, championed the program in the Florida Legislature, which provided initial funding to launch the initiative in June 2021. The Lastinger Center for Learning at the University of Florida administers the initiative, which sends children in grades K-5 one free book a month from October to June once they enroll in the program. Their families also receive free literacy resources to guide them on how to strengthen their child’s love of and skill in reading. The New Worlds Reading Initiative website also provides videos that offer tips and strategies to support caregivers in engaging with children to help the new concepts stick. To be eligible to enroll, children must be attending a Florida public or district-sponsored charter school and, based on state assessments, not yet reading at grade level. To date, more than 130,000 students have signed up for the program.

Dr. Shaunté Duggins is assistant director of the New Worlds Reading Initiative at the UF Lastinger Center for Learning.