Soar in 4 is a community education program, aligned with the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, that was created in 2016 as a response to Manatee County’s declining reading scores and Manatee County parental requests for guidance to better support their children’s learning at home in literacy and beyond. Soar in 4 is active within each of Manatee County’s 15 Title I elementary schools, which typically support ALICE families. At least 99.8% of the students attending each of these schools are impoverished (Social Economic Status), with most students of a minority race. Additionally, Soar in 4 connects to the neighboring feeder preschools by partnering with Step Up Suncoast Head Start sites and the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County. For the past four years, Soar in 4 has provided innovative, play-based learning events and has provided learning materials for children and their families.
According to the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas, enrollment in Florida’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program was down statewide in 2020. This number may rise as many families choose to keep their children home as COVID-19 spreads across the state.
Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten, or VPK, is a free educational program that helps prepare 4-year-olds for kindergarten and beyond. To be eligible, children must live in Florida and be four years old on or before September 1 of the school year they enroll. Parents can choose from private childcare centers or public schools and school year or summer programs.
COVID-19 has impacted children and their readiness for kindergarten. For young children, it’s not ideal to have a virtual program. They need hands-on experiences; they need interactions. ALICE constrained families have been impacted severely, and many lack the resources to provide in-home literacy materials for their young child(ren).
Because of the high contagion level of the Coronavirus, Soar in 4 is no longer able to send learning materials from the classroom into children’s homes and have them returned to share with classmates after use. Due to the pandemic, Soar in 4 has created Pre-Kindergarten Readiness Bags that will be sent home and will stay in the home permanently. These bags will be provided to 2,000 Manatee County low socio-economic pre-k students in Title I neighborhoods. These bags have been designed to support the VPK standards and contain literacy manipulatives, interactive materials, and books. The family activity guide includes literacy, social/emotional learning, math, social studies, and art activities.
Entering school ready to learn helps put children on the path to success in school. School readiness is one of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading key solution areas because early learning directly influences a child’s ability to succeed in school.
Research shows us that academic achievement increases when parents are engaged in their children’s education. By using the bags’ resources, parents can create fun learning experiences for their children to help prepare them for school.
Pre-Kindergarten Readiness Bags are available thanks to donors’ generosity to the Soar in 4 fund at the Manatee Community Foundation. The materials within the bags and the learning engagements are interconnected and build upon each other for student proficiency. An online instructional video is available to support families on how to use the materials at home.
The Pre-Kindergarten Readiness Bags will be shared throughout the targeted neighborhoods by collaborating with early learning providers, faith-based organizations, and local businesses. Day training is available to ensure that organizations receiving the Pre-Kindergarten Readiness Bags to disseminate can demonstrate and support the in-home family literacy activities. In addition, parents that complete the parent response card and return it to a drive-thru Soar in 4 event will receive another new book for their child’s home library.