Skip to main content

Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida Add Literacy Initiatives to Existing Programs

Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida has been well known in the area for more than 60 years and has been an active part of Duval County afterschool programming for more than a decade. This past school year, the organization underwent its first year of a pilot program in four Duval County elementary schools to provide intensive literacy improvement and student development, as part of the READ JAX grant program. Schools include Arlington Elementary, Arlington Heights Elementary, Highlands Elementary, and Northwestern Legends Elementary.

The multi-faceted approach utilizes small group instruction in Leveled Literacy Intervention that includes training sessions for staff and instructors, monthly family engagement initiatives, and even a creative writing class. The organization partnered with Northwest Behavioral Health to provide a dedicated case manager for each school who addresses specific needs based on student demographics.

“Since COVID, we’ve seen that scores in the schools have gone down, and it has also been found through surveys that peer-to-peer engagement is the lowest it’s ever been,” said Wyatt Parlette, Vice President of Operations for Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida. “We are always looking for ways to increase our programming, and this grant allowed us an opportunity to build on the things we already know that work, and also go out on a limb and try some new things on the academic side.”

The literacy programs have been designed to target students who are two grade levels behind in reading. In addition to individual school case managers, there is a unit director of literacy overseeing the four schools.

“We knew that our kids were more likely to improve in small groups, as opposed to the whole group setting they’ve been used to – so there has naturally been a learning curve for that,” said Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida Senior Director of School-Based Clubs TaVianna Sanders, who has been instrumental in developing the pilot program. “This has been a great opportunity and fun challenge to get to support the students and their families in a different way. Our case managers find out what is needed, and they bridge the gap between the school day, after school, and when the students go home.”

A creative writing program for fourth graders has been well-received by participants, who enjoy the chance to write more freely and put into practice their increasing literacy skills. Students also have the opportunity to participate in weekly Soyini Circles, a social-emotional program that fosters leadership skills and resilience strategies and gives them a chance to have open and honest conversations about what they are experiencing in daily life. Families get involved with creative monthly offerings such as book giveaways and events like Starbooks: Literacy, Laughs, and Lattes Night.

“Family buy-in is critical for changing the recipe, and our full-circle approach by adding the case management piece has been important and very well-received,” said Parlette. “We are also helping to change the stigma of reading by providing resources for families to be able to engage more with their children and reading. When students are able to read for enjoyment, not just because they have to, that is when you really start to see success in literacy development.”