Program shows remarkable results in bringing children up to grade level in reading proficiency.

As summer approaches, a group of educators in Sarasota County is looking for ways to help struggling readers catch up with their peers.

Kids READ, an offshoot of the Sarasota County School District’s Reading Recovery Program, will provide intensive reading tutoring to about 60 struggling readers at seven sites this summer. Children participating in the summer program will receive four hours of one-on-one reading instruction weekly for seven weeks.

The program seeks to build on the success of previous summers, when nearly 80 percent of the children entered the program behind but were reading at grade level by the end of the initiative.

"We are seeing some astonishing numbers," said Laurel Hinds, the program's coordinator.

The program will take place at five Boys and Girls Clubs in Sarasota, the R.L. Taylor Community Complex and the SKY Family YMCA in Venice. Over seven weeks, first- and second-grade students who are not reading on grade level will meet with a certified teacher four times a week for a 30-minute intensive reading session. They will also spend 30 minutes daily reading with a volunteer, and program organizers are recruiting high school students to read with participating children.

The effort is funded through philanthropy, with partners including Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, and private donors, including philanthropists Keith and Linda Monda.

"Our basic premise is that every child in our community should have an opportunity to be successful, and that drives us," said Keith Monda, the former president and chief operating officer of Coach Inc. "Clearly, reading is the most important thing. If a child doesn't know how to read, he or she cannot be successful."

The program aims to halt the ‘summer slide,’ a term for the trend of low-income children regressing in their reading aptitude over the summer. Decades of research shows that students from middle- and high-income families tend to advance in their reading ability over the summer, but their poorer peers fall behind, creating an ever-widening achievement gap.

Veronica Brady, a senior vice president for philanthropy with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the leading funding source for the program, said teachers will receive a full diagnosis of the child's reading ability when they return to school in the fall.

"Each child's teacher is going to get a report showing where the child is succeeding and where there are opportunities," Brady said. "They have given us great feedback on how helpful this is."

Hinds said first- and second-graders can make major progress over just one summer because struggling readers are not yet as far apart from their peers as they could be in later grades. 

"This is the clearest and best time," Hinds said. "Getting those kids when the gap is smallest is pivotal."