Partnership Boosts Kids’ Reading Skills
by Laura Ruane
Teaming up with a local university has helped an inner-city after school program to not only raise reading levels, but also to teach students the multimedia skills that experts consider essential to today’s and tomorrow’s jobs.
The non-profit African Caribbean American Catholic Center offers classroom-style instruction from certified teachers, one-on-one tutoring from volunteers, workshops for parents and summer reading camp.
The programs are trimming the reading achievement gap for the center’s 100 students in grades K-12, most of whom come from low-income families, said John Gamba, center board vice-chairman.
Since the partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University began three years ago, more than 80% of the students in the grades K-5 program have improved in reading skills such as comprehension and grammar each year, as measured by the Basic Early Assessment of Reading or the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test, Gamba said.
Lehigh Acres resident Cruza Tomas has two of her three children enrolled. “My oldest, Jesse, is 10. He didn’t like to read, but he’s starting to read more – books about animals and fairy tales. This program is phenomenal,” Tomas said.
Gamba, who has co-founded a number of internet-based companies over the past 20 years, is leading the local charge for multimedia literacy along with Robert Kenny, assistant professor for education technology at Florida Gulf Coast University.
At the center’s Digital U last summer, university faculty and students worked with about 30 middle and high school-age youths over three weeks to create digital documentaries about themselves using state-of-the-art equipment.
“We tell our students that by the year 2015, textbooks will be obsolete,” Gamba said, adding, “It’s our obligation to teach them to create, think and learn differently.”
The program’s reading tutoring for elementary students and its digital training and mentoring for middle and high school-aged youths aren’t unique in themselves in the Fort Myers area, Gamba said, but those services – combined with the university’s partnership and grants from several area philanthropic groups – have created “an ecosystem of support that is unique.”