NAACP, Urban League make use of Reading Scholarship Account to improve outcomes for low-income students

Lisa Buie

Florida students who may have experienced learning loss due to COVID-19 got help recently from a pilot program made possible by a state scholarship aimed at helping public school students who struggle with reading.

The North Brevard NAACP, along with the Central Florida Urban League and Brevard Public Schools, partnered to launch a reading enrichment program powered by the state’s Reading Scholarship Account program at Mims Elementary, a Florida Space Coast school where at least 40% of students come from lower-income families.

The scholarship accounts, valued at $500 per student, are available for students in grades 3 through 5 who are enrolled in a Florida public school and scored below a Level 3 on the grade 3 or grade 4 statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment in the prior school year.

Families can use the money for instructional materials, curriculum, tuition and fees for part-time tutoring services or specialized education programs designed to improve reading or literacy skills and fees for after-school programs designed to improve reading or literacy.

Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer Reading Scholarship Accounts along with four other scholarships for Florida schoolchildren.

Students who participated in the pilot program already were behind before the pandemic forced school closures, according to Ruth Gary, a member of the North Brevard Education Committee and coordinator of the program.

Funded by a grant from the Central Florida Urban League, the students met daily with an instructor and teaching assistant at a local community center for focused, hands-on tutoring in reading and science.

With help from Brevard County Parks and Recreation, and personal protective equipment donated by the Harry T. and Harriet V. Moore Cultural Complex, the program also included tours of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and the American Space Museum in Titusville.

Timing of the program likely was fortuitous, as children in Florida and across the nation who already were prone to summer learning loss were predicted to fall even further behind due to COVID-related school campus closures.

Amid concerns the learning gap would only continue to worsen this fall, especially for children already at a disadvantage, Gary said the organizations would like to expand to a full-blown after-school program for K-5 students at up to five additional schools.

Brevard Public Schools spokeswoman Nicki Hensley said district officials have scheduled a meeting for early November with representatives from the Urban League and the North Brevard NAACP to discuss the plan.

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