The national award-winning Dive Into Reading program has successfully completed its fourth year, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nominated by the School District of Manatee County, Dive Into Reading received the annual Commissioner’s Business Recognition Award (CBRA) from the Florida Department of Education.
The Commissioner’s Business Recognition Awards (CBRA) recognize Florida’s business leaders and partners that have shown the most commitment in bringing positive change and implementing bold, innovative approaches to improve the academic performance of students in Florida’s education system and communities. Along with the award, the School District of Manatee County received $5,000 from Florida Blue to continue building student-focused programs and enhancing relationships between Florida’s students and the business leaders in their communities.
Dive Into Reading is a summer reading program developed by Amanda and John Horne, owners of Anna Maria Oyster Bar, in 2017 which aims to improve children’s reading levels by combating “Summer Slide” and offering continuing education over the summer break. The program’s long-term objective is to improve elementary level reading levels, instill a lifelong love of reading, and teach social-emotional skills.
Typically, the students visit Anna Maria Oyster Bar, and other restaurant locations weekly where they are provided breakfast while learning social and restaurant etiquette skills with their mentor, followed by reading time and sight word practice. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic Dive Into Reading was forced to go virtual in 2020 or face cancellation for the year. Determined to continue the program, Amanda and John Horne along with their six teacher coordinators completely pivoted their program to operate remotely via Zoom. With the help of teachers, mentors, and facilitators, Dive Into “Virtual” Reading was a success!
The program was offered five days a week, twice a day, and open to all rising 3rd graders. Students were paired with a mentor for one-on-one reading time in a “Breakout Session,” after a read-aloud with guest readers who would join the Zoom call to read to the kids. Guest readers included a fireman and his father, an astronaut who shared a video of himself on the ISS, a surgeon who walked the students around the operating room at a local hospital, the Superintendent, real live animals including Camels, Giraffes, Bears, Guide Dog, and Manatees, and even a fossilized Mastodon! The Tampa Bay Buccaneer Chief Operating Officer and Wide Receiver, a Tampa Bay Lightning player, and more. The final guest was renowned sportscaster and local legend Dick Vitale, and others who shared a message of resilience, strength and hope with the 76 children, 138 mentors, along with donors and supporters.
Each time a child attended any Dive Into Reading session, his or her name was entered into a raffle. Prizes included two brand new Chromebook computers donated by the AMOB Family, $700 in Visa gift cards thanks to Florida Power & Light and an anonymous donor, a Family Membership to The Bishop Museum of Science & Nature, a Tampa Bay Buccaneer mini helmet signed by the Head Coach Bruce Arians, AND, several signed basketballs from Dick Vitale.
“Children make up 100% of our future. If we want change, we need to teach our children to read and to be the best they can be. It’s so awesome to see multi-generations together working to improve our community’s future. It will be very bright if we can help each child to read at grade-level now,” said John Horne.
In total, 76 students participated in the program along with 138 mentors, 6 teacher coordinators, 20 days of reading – 2 sessions per day with a total of 501 sessions attended averaging 6.6 sessions per child, and more than 1,900 books read with an average of 25 books per child.
Interest from other communities eager to replicate the program’s successes is welcome: at least three communities are currently seeking guidance from Dive Into Reading to launch their own versions of the program. DeSoto County is currently piloting the virtual program and Sarasota County piloted Dive Into Reading in 2019. Dive Into Reading’s founders are happy to share the program’s playbook and resource library so that the impact can spread far beyond the Manatee-Sarasota region. Please contact Amanda Horne at email@example.com for more information.