WRITER ANDREW LEONE
South Florida is one of those rare, genuinely diverse regions that encompasses and values a broad array of cultures and languages. In fact, there are currently, 191 languages spoken in Broward County public schools. Each of these languages reflects families, histories, traditions, foods, music, and unique cultures. What a mix! In order to maintain and expand on this wonderful resource, it is important that children stay connected to their roots and learn to appreciate the diversity that exists in this neck of the woods.
Children should be encouraged to participate and engage in the cultural activities and events that abound in South Florida, so they can learn about their roots and explore other ethnicities. Another valuable way to learn about cultures is through literature. In fact, the most important tool we can give children to foster learning and appreciation is a love of books and reading. Building early literacy fosters an expanded imagination and a propensity to dream big and achieve big things.
The third grade is an important milestone because, simply put, until third grade, children learn to read. After third grade, they are reading to learn. If they are not proficient readers by then, they are more likely to fall behind their peers and eventually risk closing the doors to opportunities that come with education.
Instilling a love of reading and literacy in a child early on is also an important community investment. Strikingly, according to some statistics, two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare, and 85% of youth who interface with the juvenile justice system are functionally illiterate. That’s where we all come in—because almost everyone can be a mentor or tutor to a child and be an active participant in their academic success.
A responsible, productive adult is an asset to his or her community. An incarcerated youth or adult is a cost burden and a lost opportunity. Engaging in support of literacy, tutoring, or mentoring is an investment we can all make for the greater good. The best reward of all is knowing a child’s horizons have been expanded by fostering in them a love of reading, learning, and culture.