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Florida Elks News Editor:
Rachael King
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Florida State Elks Association Inc.
P.O. Box 49
Umatilla, FL 32784-0049

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Palmetto Elks Lodge #2449 has been providing community service to children in the local (soon to be statewide) Dive into Reading program. The program is designed to help children in Title I schools from first through third grade raise their reading skills. Sadly, 51% of Manatee County, Fla., children in the third grade cannot read at the third-grade level. These statistics are similar throughout the south Florida Title I school system.

The Anna Maria Oyster Bar piloted this program after they heard the statistics above from school employees and realized that from birth to third grade, we learn to read, and from third grade on, we read to learn. Children who cannot read at grade level after third grade usually do not make it through high school.

In its third year, Dive into Reading has proven to be successful at raising the reading levels of children who participate. The local school system brings children to the restaurant for breakfast with a mentor. The mentors assist the children by reading with and to them from grade level books and having the children read back from the same book. The program runs for one month in June. Children are tested by the school system at the end of the school year and then again at the beginning of the next school year. After attending the program, the results show positive improvement, or at least no loss of reading skills throughout the summer months. Statistically, these children would normally lose up to three months of reading skills during summer break.

Palmetto Elks involvement started at the mentor level. In the second year, the lodge donated over 200 backpacks with school supplies to the attending children. This year, over 400 children attended. The program is growing and other local restaurants are now participating. The Sarasota County school system has also joined the program. Palmetto Lodge has committed to providing an adequate number of backpacks for the program. The lodge is working with other lodges in the district to expand participation.