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January 25, 2018

Volunteers Work to Boost School Readiness

Kindergarten Readiness Bags are being distributed to local 4-year-olds.

Get ready — the class of 2032 is coming.

That may seem a long way off, but a team of 120 volunteers is already at work to ensure that Sarasota and DeSoto County’s 4-year-olds graduate from high school on time in 2032.

Volunteers assembled 3,400 Kindergarten Readiness Bags at Manatee Technical College this week.

Those bags will be delivered to every elementary school in the two counties as part of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Parents can pick up the bags when registering their child for kindergarten.

The bags contain materials designed to prepare a child for kindergarten and a checklist with basic skills children should have, including being able to put on their coat, count to 20, drink from a water fountain and go to the bathroom by themselves.

For a youngster away from their parents for the first time, the myriad tasks expected of them can be overwhelming, said Beth Duda, executive director of the Suncoast Campaign.

“A child ready for kindergarten not only is ready for the literacy and math skills but in many cases, it’s the first time the child is going to be functioning independently,” Duda said. “There are all kinds of world skills that they need to know — how to put on and take off their own shoes, are they able to put on their own jacket and zip it up? It’s a big learning experience, and one that we as adults can help prepare the child for.”

The materials include a picture book, flashcards for learning colors and the alphabet, a box of crayons and a set of magnetic letters.

Rob Grinnell, a retired math teacher, was among the volunteers stuffing bags at MTC on Wednesday.

Grinnell said his years teaching middle and high school math had reinforced the conviction that early education was vital for later success. “The brain develops so much from 3 to age 5, and we don’t do enough in that time,” he said.

“If you have the resources, that’s where you should be spending them. You get much more bang for your buck.”

The bag assembly and distribution is sponsored by the Patterson Foundation as part of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Last year only Title I schools in Manatee and Sarasota received the bags. This year the DeSoto County district used federal funding to help pay for the bags, and the Sarasota County Rotary Clubs and the Rotary Club of Sarasota Foundation provided funding to ensure all schools in Sarasota — not just the Title I schools — receive the bags.

All of Manatee’s Title I schools will receive bags later this year, through funding from the Patterson Foundation, but the program there has not yet been expanded to include all non-Title I elementary schools.

Jim Henry, secretary of the rotary club of Sarasota Foundation, said the rotary clubs in Sarasota have become increasingly focused on improving child literacy rates.

“If you start out behind you are going to keep being behind unless you make a concerted effort to catch up,” Henry said.

This story comes from a partnership between the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the Herald-Tribune, funded by The Patterson Foundation, to cover school readiness, attendance, summer learning, healthy readers and parent engagement. Read more stories at

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