$40K raised for reading program

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WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Most of us have a favorite book we remember from school whether it was Jane Eyre, Catcher in the Rye or Hamlet. But before the next generation can enjoy those classics they have to master the basics.

According to Walton County School District Officials, about 35 percent of the third graders in the district are at least three to six months behind reading on grade level. Educators say third grade is a key year for a student's reading development. Educators say the numbers of struggling third graders are similar across the state of Florida and the nation.

"Third grade is just a really key grade level for making sure that those foundation skills for reading are in place," said Tammy Smith, the Principal at Butler Elementary. "Third graders really start reading more to learn information as opposed to learning to read."

In August The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy along with Walton County Schools held a fundraiser and raised more than $40,000 for a new intensive reading program. On Wednesday the partnership was celebrated with a reading rally at Butler Elementary, where the three year pilot program will kick-off.

"Butler has the largest third grade population so this is where we chose to start," said Kim Stafford with Walton County Schools. "If we can do it really well here, and we know we can, then we can expand and that's our hope."

Since launching in 2002, this foundation program has served more than 48,000 students nationwide. Walton County will mark the 93rd program site in the sunshine state. Foundation volunteers say catching students up to speed now will benefit the rest of their education.

"A child not reading on grade level in third grade is four times more likely to struggle and drop out of high school," said Foundation Volunteer and Walton County Resident Kelly Layman.

How the program will work; teachers will identify struggling students and refer them to the program. With the parents' permission, the student will meet regularly with a tutor to practice reading. The tutors are local teens specifically trained for the program. The child's progress will be monitored a teacher and the data passed onto independent researchers.