Community activities promote early childhood literacy, scholar athletes

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The latest thrust for The Learning Alliance is to stimulate community awareness about the critical importance of pre-kindergarten reading readiness.

The organization has already received remarkable success in launching literacy programs in every local elementary school, and is the impetus behind the Indian River County School District’s Moonshot Moment goal of achieving a 90 percent literacy rate by the end of third grade.

To promote the early childhood literacy initiative, they coordinated a series of Literacy Week activities and events in conjunction with the school district and the latest group to jump on board – local physicians.

The bright blue van spotted around town during Literacy Week belonged to Nemours BrightStart!, a reading readiness program introduced to The Learning Alliance by pediatrician Dr. Susie O’Toole of Island Pediatrics.

Fittingly, the van began its multi-day tour at O’Toole’s office, to screen more than a dozen of her little patients.

As they would do at various other locations around town, BrightStart specialists asked children ages 3 to 5 a series of 25 questions to assess their reading readiness skills.

The results were discussed with parents, who also received a copy of the resource guide, Is Your Child Ready to Read? Developing Literacy Skills at Home.

“It was so exciting to see the bus pull up this morning; just to see the expressions on the kids’ faces,” exclaimed O’Toole on Thursday.

Later that evening, over dinner at the Quail Valley River Club, pediatricians, family practitioners, OB/GYNs and other physicians and their staff were introduced to the concept by Dr. Laura Bailet, Nemours BrightStart! executive director, who spoke about how physicians can incorporate literacy into their checkups.

“Physicians can bring reading readiness into their wellness examinations so that all children, 0 to 5, can be on a level playing field at kindergarten entry,” explained Dr. O’Toole.

The van traveled Friday to screen children and host parental workshops at Citrus and Vero Beach Elementary schools, before heading to Hobart Park Saturday during the Indian River Soccer Association Family Fun Day.

The Gifford Youth Activity Center was the final stop Saturday for the Moonshot Sports Kickoff and Pizza Party, which featured sports demonstrations, celebrity guest readers, parental workshops, raffles – and, of course, pizza.

The noise level in the gym was one of high excitement, as numerous coaches and teams promoted their favorite sports, including track, basketball, cheerleading, dance space, tennis, capoeira, qi gong, hip hop, karate and lacrosse.

“It’s just great to see these kids coming out,” said Freddie Woolfork, GYAC public relations and facility director. “These kids are all scholar athletes, not just athletes.”

Moonshot Sports was initiated six months ago by Glendale Elementary School Principal Adam Faust, who recognized the positive influence coaches could have in promoting literacy as well as sports.

“What we want to do is incorporate the coaches into the Moonshot Moment – get them talking about the importance of reading from elementary school on,” said Faust. “To be a good athlete, you have to start with reading. You have to be a scholar of the game.”

Faust said that while they have already had a lot of community support, “We’re reaching out to coaches and others; anyone who wants to join our Moonshot Sports team can join us.

“We want to start a conversation about the importance of reading at an early age. We’re reaching out for kids who are not even in athletics; we want them right when they’re crawling around.”

Every person leaving the event did so with a bag of books and other materials – encouraged to train their minds as well as their bodies.

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