WORDS: Jessica Schubick
John and Amanda Horne, owners of Anna Maria Oyster Bar, launched the Dive Into Reading program in the summer of 2017. A collaboration with the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, the School District of Manatee County, Manatee Public Libraries, and with the participation of other community partners, the program began with 74 rising third graders from local Title 1 schools visiting the Anna Maria Oyster Bar Ellenton location once a week to have breakfast with volunteer reading mentors. Children practiced reading with their mentors and were able to then take books home to continue the focus on reading throughout the summer months.
The Hornes developed Dive Into Reading to align with local and national efforts to increase the number of students reading on grade-level by third grade and to reduce the “Summer Slide” (or loss of reading proficiency experienced by many children over the summer). The program’s aim was not only helping the children with their reading skills, but also to give them valuable experience with social skills such as politely meeting strangers and shaking hands, intergenerational communication, and table manners.
The first year of the program showed tremendous success. Not only did the students escape the “Summer Slide,” but they actually showed an increase in reading skills when they returned to school. Following this achievement, the program has received local and national recognition and awards from organizations including the School District of Manatee County, Manatee Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Florida, and the National Restaurant Association.
In the two summers since Dive Into Reading began, it has only grown in participation and success. The program expanded to four additional locations including Anna Maria Oyster Bar Landside on US 41, as well as partnerships with the Manatee Community Foundation, Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County, Bishop Museum of Science and Nature, Pier 22 Restaurant, Gecko’s Grill & Pub, O’Bricks Irish Pub & Martini Bar, and – as of this summer – Sarasota County Schools.
In the summer of 2019, about 350 rising first, second, and third grade students from summer programs at Title 1 schools participated – and the group included students from Brentwood Elementary, the first Sarasota County School to participate. The program enlisted hundreds of local volunteers to serve as reading mentors to the students at five area locations (Anna Maria Oyster Bar Ellenton, Anna Maria Oyster Bar Landside, Gecko’s SR 70, Gecko’s Fruitville, and the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature).
Amanda Horne explained that the program continues to grow. She said: “We have been approached by four more counties within the state that would like to see if they can replicate this in their communities. With the help of The Patterson Foundation, we are working on a ‘road map’ for the program that we can give to communities who wish to take it on.”
In his acceptance address for the Bradenton Kiwanis Foundation Bert South Philanthropic Award, John Horne said: “50% of Manatee County kids cannot read at grade level. That’s a huge percentage and it’s easy to think, ‘I’m only one person, what can I do?’ But, if a lot of ‘one-persons’ get together, we can make a dent in it. If we can make a difference in one life, we’ve been successful.”
You can learn more about Dive Into Reading at www.DiveIntoReading.net/.