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August 22, 2022

The Stars Aligned at Dive into Reading Camps

Donna Puhalovich, consultant with The Patterson Foundation

Editor’s Note: Photo courtesy of Ray Collins.


The Stars Aligned at Dive into Reading Camps

I woke up one summer morning and had an overwhelming feeling. WE HAVE A GREAT COMMUNITY! On this morning, I was going to visit a Dive into Reading summer camp — one of my favorite activities. 

In 2016, Amanda and John Horne, the owners of Anna Maria Oyster Bar (AMOB), tried a new approach to combat the summer reading slide in Manatee County. WHAT IF 1st-3rd grade summer school students with the lowest reading scores were invited to a restaurant once a week to work 1:1 with a mentor for 90 minutes? 

Sounds like a great idea…

Even so, it turned into something more magical than I believe anyone expected. The amount of work grew over the years, but the willingness and joyful stewardship was shining bright.

The “OUT OF THIS WORLD” Experience:
Dive into Reading was initially designed to improve reading skills by offering students a 90-minute 1:1 mentoring experience one morning each week where students and volunteers spend quality time sharing breakfast and reading together.

The Visible Stars: John and Amanda Horne are not only the owners of AMOB but also community leaders who want to explore solutions to grade-level reading obstacles. The initial idea of 1:1 mentoring focused on reading, but after the first year of camp, they discovered more opportunities sitting in front of them. Several campers had never been to a sit-down restaurant or exposed to dining etiquette. Additionally, many participants did not know how to introduce themselves to a stranger or how to carry on a conversation with an adult.   

New Stars Emerge:
Amanda and John added new skills to the experience in the second year. Volunteer mentors attended an orientation and training, and the focus of Dive into Reading Camps shifted to working on reading skills AND communication, manners, sight words, writing, and self-confidence. The stars were aligning!

The Invisible Stars:
What amazes me about this program is the vast number of people from all sectors who have joined this vision. I call them the “invisible stars,” not because they are invisible to me, but because they are invisible to the student who is fortunate to have this experience. And just like the night sky, you may not see them, but they are there shining just as bright.  

Here is a glimpse into the “universe of stars” that was hard at work each year to enhance the summer experience:  

  • Anna Maria Oyster Bar (business)
  • Geckos Grill and Pub (business)
  • O’Bricks Irish Pub (business)
  • Pier 22 (business)
  • Manatee County School District (government)
  • Manatee County Library (government)
  • Mentor volunteers (people)
  • Early Learning Coalition (nonprofit)
  • The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature (nonprofit)
  • The Patterson Foundation (nonprofit)
  • Ray Collins and Bill Wagy (media)

External Stakeholders convened to rethink obstacles and explore solutions. Now Dive into Reading has expanded into DeSoto and Sarasota counties.

What has this star cluster accomplished?

Dive Into Reading (Manatee County) 2022: 

  • 11,343 books read
  • 3,544 breakfasts served
  • 569 students from all 15 Title I elementary schools participated
  • 321 wonderful volunteer mentors
  • 9 AMAZING teacher coordinators

Over the past six years in Manatee County:

  • 2,007 children participated
  • 923 wonderful volunteer mentors gave time
  • 52,660 books read

Our universe has a delicate balance of stars. Watch this short video to see Dive into Reading in action, and you will see how a community came together to shoot for the stars.



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