University of Florida: New Worlds Reading Initiative reaches more than 100,000 Florida students in free book program

Created to help approximately half a million Florida K-5 students read on grade level, the New Worlds Reading Initiative is a new, free book delivery program advancing literacy and a love of reading across the state. In less than five months since the first books were delivered, the program has enrolled more than 100,000 Florida students to receive a book monthly direct to their doorstep – a significant milestone for the new program.

The New Worlds Reading Initiative is administered by the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning, and it was created and funded in 2021 through legislation out of the Florida House of Representatives under the leadership of Speaker Chris Sprowls. The Lastinger Center selected Scholastic as a partner in the initiative. To date, more than 335,529 books have been distributed.

“Reading has the ability to transform lives in incredible ways, and reading proficiency can support a lifelong joy of learning in many different subjects,” said Dr. Shaunté Duggins, assistant director of the New Worlds Reading Initiative. “Our teachers are important ambassadors. They share our mission in instilling a love for reading within students and helping them read on grade level. We are absolutely thrilled to partner with educators, families, and communities to deliver books to the homes of over 100,000 families to help instill a lifelong love of reading. But this is just the beginning — we’re working hard to ensure that every eligible child across the state of Florida has the chance to enroll.”

Through the program, eligible K-5 students in Florida public and charter schools who enroll will receive one free book per month in English, Spanish, or Haitian Creole during the school year, for a total of nine books per year. Children can choose the topic of books they receive, with the most popular selections being the “adventure” and “humor” categories, to help them build personalized libraries and develop a love of reading. Books also come with literacy activities for families and caregivers to engage with their children on reading and help build their child’s language and conversation skills.

“I love the overall program,” said Shaquasha Lane of Palm Beach County, whose 9 year old has been in the program since enrollment opened in November. “It’s hard going to the store, for example, to find a book on your child’s reading level. These books come in handy because the books help with comprehension and it’s similar to what he would learn in school. When he first got the book, he was nonchalant like, ‘Oh this is just another book’… but I was really excited. He’s now getting into the point where reading is more of a habit, he looks forward to getting a new book.”

The New Worlds Reading Initiative seeks to continue partnering closely with school and district administrators, educators, and community organizations to help reach the remaining estimated 400,000 students eligible to enroll within five years. The book delivery program is funded by a $200 million appropriation in the 2021 Florida state budget and a corporate tax-credit program that provides a dollar-for-dollar return in tax credits for a corporation’s donation.

“Research has regularly shown that children who are given a choice in reading develop a sense of ownership and that home libraries are beneficial. New Worlds Reading combines these ideas, bringing book access and choice directly to Florida’s children most in need of reading encouragement,” added Rose Else-Mitchell, president of Education Solutions at Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education, and media company.

“Over 100,000 enrollments in the New Worlds Reading Initiative is so much more than a milestone for the program — it represents 100,000 lives and families that will be changed for the better by the books and resources delivered to their door steps monthly,” said Speaker Chris Sprowls. “By equipping students with interesting books and parents with tools they need to help their kids learn to love reading, we are launching kids toward success and empowering them to dream, do, and achieve more.”

On Tuesday, March 29, the New Worlds Reading Initiative will celebrate the 100,000-student enrollment milestone with educators and eligible students and their families at the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens. Speaker Sprowls will be in attendance and is expected to make an exciting announcement regarding funding.


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