Curious minds, radiant laughter, and little hands that reach for yours – these are just a few of the special moments ReadingPals get to experience every week.
Local nonprofit ReadyKids! is on a mission to prepare Escambia County children for day one of kindergarten and beyond, and it requires the passion and commitment of over 200 dedicated volunteers to bring their mission to life.
“I love seeing the pure joy on my student’s face when I walk into the classroom,” gushes long-time ReadingPal, Tania Parker. “Being able to see the impact I’m making and their excitement for learning is the best feeling. The students grow so much over the year and getting to witness those aha moments is what continues to inspire and motivate me to be there for them.”
This sentiment is felt strongly among the Pre-K mentors, particularly in January as ReadyKids! celebrates National Mentoring Month – a national campaign run throughout January that aims to unify and expand the mentoring movement, celebrate the power of relationships, and raise awareness around the importance of youth mentoring.
Of the more than 200 volunteers in Escambia County’s ReadingPals program, 65% of them are returners. They see the impact they’re making for children in Escambia County year after year.
Mentorship is incredibly powerful, whether you’re navigating college life, newly entering the professional world, or taking the next steps to advance your career. But is there an age limit for where mentorship is most effective? At ReadyKids!, we don’t think so. In fact, we think it’s most impactful as early as possible, which is why we work to pair prekindergarten students with caring and committed mentors at just four years old.
Imagine a child having 45 minutes of undivided attention each week where they can have their voice heard, exercise their decision-making skills, and have their own personal champion. Imagine this child knowing their one special person will show up for them every single week – someone they can depend on, and who is so excited to see them. This one-to-one match for a child who is just beginning to navigate the academic world – who may often feel unseen as one of 18 in a classroom or one of many in a household – is a profound and deeply impactful experience.
For Pre-K student Legacy, having a ReadingPal has made all the difference as she faced difficulty early on with letter recognition, writing her name, and speech delays. Those speech delays translated to frustration in the classroom as she struggled to communicate with her teacher and peers. With dedicated one-to-one time with her ReadingPal, Nichole, Legacy’s confidence and skills have grown. Nichole took time to learn Legacy’s interests, understand her insecurities, provide ample encouragement, and make learning fun. Now, Legacy’s mom tells us that her daughter insists on reading books together at home, her teacher shares that Legacy is eager to show off her work, and we see how proud Legacy has become of herself.
Throughout Escambia County, Pre-K mentors in the ReadingPals program are helping our community’s most disadvantaged students build skills that are critical for kindergarten readiness. They are practicing letter recognition, writing their name, counting and quantifying numbers, exploring colors and shapes, using their critical thinking skills, and are being introduced to the joy of books.
So, what does mentorship look like for a Pre-K child? Exploring letters looks a lot like taking a picture walk through a book, creating letter shapes with Play-Doh, doing alphabet scavenger hunts, or navigating an alphabet rug. Counting numbers is made fun by clapping your hands or hopping on one foot, rolling large foam dice, tossing numbered bean bags, or lightly smashing balls of Play-Doh and counting as you go.
Colors and shapes are everywhere – in students’ creative artwork along school hallways, in fairytale kits that spark imagination, or in whimsical puzzles where children learn to start with the edge and work their way in. Indeed, learning opportunities are present in everyday moments, and ReadingPal mentors are helping their student pals to engage in and explore as many new concepts as possible. Many ReadingPals say this is the highlight of their week.
Do you remember having a favorite book as you were growing up? Getting lost in the tales of dinosaurs, unicorns, faraway lands, and happy endings? For the children in Escambia County’s ReadingPals program, they are just beginning their exploration of books and it is an enthralling adventure. ReadingPals rooms are filled with childhood classics like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “Goodnight Moon,” and “Corduroy” along with newer literary gems, such as “Llama Llama,” “Pete the Cat,” and “Elephant & Piggie.” Getting to relive old favorites and discover new adventures together is as exciting for the children as it is for the mentors.
There is nothing quite like watching a child fall in love with a story for the first time or witnessing their excitement as they conquer a new skill. Pre-K mentors are the heart and soul of the ReadingPals program led locally by ReadyKids!. As a childhood mentor, you have the power to offer encouragement, kindness, and wisdom while crafting the first chapter of a child’s ongoing story of resilience and success.
This National Mentoring Month, cultivate a child’s curiosity, confidence, and belief in their own potential by becoming a ReadingPal. Visit ReadyKidsFL.org to get started. A child in need is waiting for you.
Kristy Craig, Executive Director, ReadyKids!
You can reach me at: 850-380-3652 or Kristy@ReadyKidsFL.org
*Note from Local Pulse Editor: Kristy Craig is a part of our Community Voices series. Community Voices is a group of Pensacola dwellers that are making a difference in our city by sharing best practices, experiences, their perspective on impactful subjects, and contributing expertise that leads to movement forward for a stronger community.