Editor’s Note: This editorial was originally published by the Herald-Tribune
Since the creation of a bi-county Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, and the precursor efforts that led to its formation, we and others have observed that producing successful students requires the engagement of not only parents and teachers, but an array of community-based organizations and individuals.
Some of the barriers to early learning are high and can only be overcome by systemic political and social change: for example, ensuring that all pregnant women and their babies receive sufficient health care before and after birth; providing all families with access to high-quality child care and pre-kindergarten schooling.
Other barriers can be lowered by individuals or small businesses, however. Making such positive contributions takes a significant amount of work but, as John and Amanda Horne of Manatee County have demonstrated, progress can be promoted and achieved.
The Hornes, who own the Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurants, are being honored for their contributions to the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading this week in the nation’s capital. The Hornes are receiving the Good Neighbor Award, presented by the National Restaurant Association’s Education Foundation, for their Dive Into Reading program.
Dive Into Reading is both simple in concept and meaningful in practice. For three days a week during June, 75 children and volunteers were invited to the Ellenton AMOB for breakfast, encouragement in reading and, one of our favorite parts, lessons in dining etiquette.
As Ryan McKinnon reported in the Herald-Tribune, the participating pupils — preparing to enter the third grade — collectively read 1,264 books last summer and, according to assessment data, subsequently demonstrated significant learning gains.
Certainly, the Hornes are not the only ones to support the reading campaign; other businesses, individuals, and nonprofit groups have contributed substantially.
But they have a compelling message to share locally and in the capital.
“We want to go to Washington, D.C., and stand in front of our fellow restaurant owners and say, ‘You can do this, you can make a difference, and it’s not that hard,’” Amanda Horne said.
Indeed, Anna Maria Oyster Bar is expanding its program next year to invite children from other schools. Joined by Gecko’s Grill and Pub, and the South Florida Museum, this small coalition plans to offer the experience to all five of Manatee County’s Title I elementary schools, whose students have the highest poverty rates.
Dive Into Reading is about being a good neighbor, as the restaurant association has recognized, but it’s also about demonstrating leadership in the community and making investments in children.
Research shows that children who can read proficiently by the third grade have the best chance of achieving academic, social and economic success. Grade-level readers are more likely than struggling pupils to post subsequent learning gains and become productive employees and citizens.
Restaurants are major employers in our region, especially in light of its tourism-driven economy, so we hope other members of the industry will aid Dive Into Reading or find other ways to support the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. As the Hornes have shown, they can make a difference with diligence and a commitment to this vital cause.