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February 11, 2016

Community Education at the Manatee County Fair

For an exciting 10 days in January, the Manatee County Fair was the place to be. Each night, thousands of children, adults and families walked through the gates to experience community, rides, games, animals and food. The staff and volunteers of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading didn’t want to miss all of that excitement – so we attended the fair every night, too.

The booth was set up in the exhibit hall, which gave us a great opportunity to share information about the three solution areas of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading: School Readiness, Attendance, and Summer Learning. The centerpiece of the booth was a wonderful display of the winning attendance awareness contest posters from Manatee County schools. Of the 38,000 students who created posters for this contest, 27 were chosen as regional winners from Sarasota and Manatee counties. 

The campaign is a communitywide effort in Manatee and Sarasota counties to help all children – especially those from low-income families –succeed in school by ensuring they read on grade level by the end of third grade. Attending school every day, on time and ready to learn is a critical factor for the success of each student. Throughout the fair, students and their families stopped at our booth to admire the winning posters. The students were excited to see their schools represented and were particularly happy when they recognized a classmate’s poster. This gave us a wonderful opportunity to reinforce the importance of school attendance.

As ‘fair-goers’ stopped by the booth, we also shared information about summer learning.  Research spanning 100 years has proven that students lose ground academically when they are out of school for the summer and that engaging children in summer-learning opportunities will greatly help combat summer-learning loss. We encouraged families to begin thinking of how to provide their children with positive summer-learning opportunities.

We were especially interested in talking to families with children ages 0-5 – the target age for school readiness. We introduced parents and guardians to Vroom, a movement to turn shared moments into brain building moments that features an app for parents and caregivers. Whether it’s mealtime, bath time or anytime in between, the free Vroom app offers suggestions to nurture a child’s growing mind. There is no time in life when the brain develops more rapidly than during the first five years. The VROOM app was designed to provide parents and caregivers with ways to boost early learning. 

What was most memorable? The personal connections made with parents, guardians and grandparents. Dozens of adults stopped at our booth looking for understanding and support as they shared that the child in their lives was struggling with reading. Whenever a child has difficulty with reading or school, it can be an overwhelming and emotional time for parents. The more we educate ourselves with facts and resources, the less overwhelming it will seem. As these concerned parents and guardians were leaving our booth, stocked full of facts, information and resources, they were smiling again – looking a little less heavy-hearted and most often gave us a big hug and a big heartfelt thank you.

Although schools must be accountable for helping all children achieve, the Campaign is based on the belief that schools cannot succeed alone. It takes an entire community coming together to support our children’s success with reading.

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