This Week at READ USA

Book Choice and Ownership

Beautiful and Bountiful Books!

  • Read USA Inc.
  • May 8 2024


That’s right, the READ USA Book Fairs are back in full swing as of last week!

As of today, we have distributed 50,000+ books to 25,000+ Duval County Public Schools elementary students – all thanks to our generous donors! While the numbers are impressive (and take a lot of effort!), we remain very grounded in our purpose. Putting free books into just one student’s hands – one who may not have any books at home, just like 61% of low-income students across the country – has the power to change that one student’s life. It can improve their perspective of reading, give them a newfound joy of exploring a variety of titles and topics, and empower them with choice – which is precisely why READ USA Book Fairs were founded 13 years ago.

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While we are officially halfway through Book Fair season, it’s not too late to join the fun! We have several opportunities for you to support the READ USA Book Fairs with your time or your treasure:

Sponsor a Student

For $12, you can directly place two free, brand-new books into a student’s hands, ones that they get to choose themselves! This $12 investment today can make all the difference to a student tomorrow. With nearly 25,000 students who haven’t participated in this year’s Book Fairs yet, there is still time for you to invest in their future. Please consider sponsoring a student today!

Volunteer at a Book Fair

Volunteers are vital to running these book fairs smoothly, fulfilling essential tasks that include:

  • Guiding young students through the book fair, helping them select books that interest them, and helping put their names in their brand-new books!
  • Supporting teachers and READ USA staff with keeping students and books organized during the Book Fair.
  • Book Fair set-up and pack-up.

If there is a school in your neighborhood where you’d like to volunteer, or a specific date that works best for your schedule, let us know. Book Fairs are occurring:

  • May 13th – May 17th
  • May 20th – May 24th

Gather your friends or coworkers and join us!

Thank you to our incredible donors and volunteers for ensuring the 2024 READ USA Book Fair season is a success-in-the-making!

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Student-Produced Documentary Receives Applause from DCPS Leadership

Last night, our CEO Dr. Rob Kelly had the unique opportunity to join Mrs. Sharon Coon, the founder and chair of the Friends of Brentwood Library, during the Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) Board meeting for a very special recognition!

Multiple Duval County middle and high school students were honored last night for their dedication, creativity, and talent in producing a documentary named “Jax Then & Now.” Each student had a significant role in researching and editing the entire film. The documentary was first viewed at Brentwood Library a couple weeks ago, and it was recently sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.!

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How this all came to be is a testament to Jacksonville’s important place in African American history:

Earlier this year, the National Museum of African American History and Culture in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service brought the “A Place for All People” exhibit to Jacksonville’s very own Brentwood Library. The exhibit delivered a living history of the African American experience in America, from being an enslaved people to desegregation and beyond, and includes artifacts and visuals that tell this diverse story. A similar exhibition is on display at the National Museum.

Following the exhibition’s presence at the Brentwood Library during Black History Month, it then served as a focal point during the 124th Anniversary of Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing. The exhibition also travelled to the Duval County Courthouse and the Jacksonville Public Library Main Library downtown.

“The poster exhibition and related public programs are an opportunity for the Friends of Brentwood Public Library to showcase its work in sharing the many stories of African American and African diaspora people and their contributions to the local community and the American story,” Mrs. Coon told News4Jax (you can watch her full interview on River City Live here).

As part of the Smithsonian Institution’s focus on outreach and education, Brentwood Library engaged local middle and high school students to create the documentary of Jacksonville’s own African American history and trailblazers. And now, the documentary is reaching a national audience! How incredible is this for these students?!

Since the documentary’s local viewing, DCPS leadership has visited the students at their schools to recognize and honor them among their peers, culminating into last night’s celebratory tribute at the DCPS Board meeting.

Congratulations to each of the students recognized last night (and to those who couldn’t attend!) alongside DCPS Superintendent Dr. Dana Kriznar and School Board Members Dr. Kelly Coker, Charlotte Joyce, and Warren Jones. Thank you for your dedication in telling the stories of Jacksonville and its people!

READ USA also commends the Friends of Brentwood Library for creating this exceptional, highly unique opportunity for these students to shine. Mrs. Coon truly seizes any chance to facilitate growth and learning in our community’s youth.        


That’s a Wrap for Spring Literacy Tutoring!

The Spring session of READ USA Literacy Tutoring will wrap up tomorrow, May 9, and as we reflect on the past semester, we are filled with gratitude and a sense of accomplishment at all that these budding young minds have achieved!


Spring 2024 Literacy Tutoring At-a-Glance:

  • 575+ elementary students who have demonstrably improved their reading skills, leading to better academic outcomes*
  • 225+ teen tutors who earned a $15/hour living and cultivated new workforce skills, while exposing them to the teaching profession
  • 60 teachers and specialists who earned a paycheck above their regular salary and learned invaluable teaching strategies to use in their own schools and classrooms, all while providing in-the-moment coaching to teen tutors
  • 15 elementary schools across the Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) district
  • Intangible, lifelong impact by moving the needle on grade-level reading!

*Yes, we used an asterisk, and here’s the great reason why!

Following the announcement of our randomized controlled trial (RCT) last month, we have third-party validated evidence that elementary students in Literacy Tutoring do, statistically, improve their skills. The accelerated skill development that comes from Literacy Tutoring is helping catch students up to reading on grade level, and ultimately closing the reading gap in Duval County. Read more about that here.

And, just like the student cohort discussed in the links above, the students who participated in this Spring semester of tutoring will undergo testing to see how much they improved their reading skills.

While the READ USA team feels a little bittersweet about wrapping up this semester of tutoring, we are so excited to see these students progress to the next grade and continue cultivating a passion for reading. Skilled readers develop into lifelong learners, which is precisely why we do what we do.

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Kudos to DCPS and Paula Renfro for Accreditation!

The READ USA team is clapping our hands in celebration of Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) officially achieving Accreditation status for another six years!

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Also at last night’s DCPS Board meeting, Board members recognized READ USA friend and DCPS Chief Academic Officer Paula Renfro for securing this accreditation, which is a highly rigorous process to pursue.

“I recall firsthand how essential and laborious the accreditation process was nearly 15 years ago,” said our CEO Dr. Rob Kelly, who worked at DCPS for the then chief academic officer and supported with the accreditation process during that time. “It was ‘all hands on deck’ because it was a monumental task, so I fully realize the heavy responsibility that Paula and her team championed. This is truly a win for our district and the recognition of our friend Paula was highly deserved.”

The goal of school district accreditation, according to DCPS, is to assist schools and systems in their continuous improvement journey, which requires a rigorous, on-site review every five years. You can read more about accreditation from DCPS here.

Congratulations again to Paula and her team! Your dedication to our students is unparalleled!

Congratulations to Our Data, Assessment & Tech. Senior Director Holden Scyster

Our very own Holden Scyster, READ USA’s Data, Assessment & Technology Senior Director, recently completed his master’s degree at Jacksonville University!

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Holden, who joined our team in 2022, started his Master of Science in Applied Business Analytics in January 2023 and celebrated his commencement on April 27th. This particular master’s degree is focused on helping organizations make data-driven decisions and applying leadership principles to improve outcomes.

Before joining READ USA as a program coordinator, Holden was a middle school math teacher in Duval County Public Schools.

“When I came to READ USA, I had an interest in shifting my career to becoming a data analyst,” Holden shared. “READ USA provided me with an opportunity to learn and build those skills and encouraged and supported me while I pursued my master’s degree. The experience here has shown me that this is something I really enjoy doing, and I appreciate the dynamic and flexible culture that Dr. Kelly has created here that puts our team members in positions we are passionate about and skilled in.”

Congratulations to Holden for this tremendous accomplishment! We are very grateful for your dedication to READ USA and for being a part of our team! 

Children’s Book: Saving American Beach: The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch by Heidi Tyline KingSaving_large

Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

This heartfelt picture book biography illustrated by the Caldecott Honoree Ekua Holmes, tells the story of MaVynee Betsch, an African American opera singer turned environmentalist, and the legacy she preserved.

#DYK: MaVynee Betsch’s sister, Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, has a READ USA Jeremy’s Journey book published about her! Dr. Cole will also be the keynote speaker at our 2024 Peace in the Pages in Honor of Roseann Duran event on Oct. 3 (more about that here).

MaVynee loved going to the beach. But in the days of segregation, she couldn’t just go to any beach—most of the beaches in Jacksonville were for whites only. Knowing something must be done, her grandfather bought a beach that African American families could enjoy; he called it American Beach. Artists like Zora Neale Hurston and Ray Charles vacationed on its sunny shores. It is here that MaVynee was first inspired to sing, propelling her to later become a widely acclaimed opera singer who routinely performed on an international stage. But her first love would always be American Beach.

After the Civil Rights Act desegregated public places, there was no longer a need for a place like American Beach and it slowly fell into disrepair. MaVynee remembered the importance of American Beach to her family and so many others. Determined to preserve this integral piece of American history, she began her second act as an activist and conservationist, ultimately saving the place that had always felt most like home.

Illustrator Ekua Holmes stuns with beautiful, soulful depictions of American Beach and MaVynee Betsch, a courageous hidden figure brought to wonderful new life by debut author Heidi Tyline King, who shows us the incredible lasting impact of one voice.

Saving American Beach: The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch is an outstanding story about a little-known eco-warrior whose story should be told and retold.

Submitted by Kathi Hart, READ USA Content Specialist

Parent Education Corner: How to Read Nonfiction Text

Many children enjoy reading about science and nature as well as real people, places, and events. Nonfiction books present information in engaging and interesting ways.

Here are tips on how you can help your child learn to navigate all the parts of a nonfiction book – from the table of contents to the diagrams, captions, glossary, and index.

➡️Talk About Nonfiction

Begin by explaining that the book you are about to share is nonfiction. That means that the book will give us information that is true. The book will be organized around a specific topic or idea, and we may learn new facts through reading. Some children even enjoy sorting their home libraries into fiction and nonfiction books. This simple categorization task helps your child understand the difference between fiction and nonfiction.

➡️Look at the Parts of the Nonfiction Texts

Most well-written nonfiction books will have helpful features that are not a part of most fiction books. These parts include a table of contents, an index, a glossary, photographs and charts with captions, and a list of sources.

➡️Share the Purpose of Each of the Text Features with Your Child

  • Table of Contents – Located at the front of a book, the table of contents displays a list of the big ideas within the book and where to find them.
  • Index – An index is an alphabetical list of almost everything covered within the book, with page numbers. Readers can use the index to look up specific terms or concepts and go right to the specific information they are looking for.
  • Glossary – Located at the back of the book, a glossary contains key words that are related to the topic and their definitions. These definitions provide more information about new vocabulary words.
  • Photos and charts – A lot of information can be found by “reading” the charts and photos found within nonfiction text. Readers will first need to figure out what information is presented. Then they’ll need to discover how to navigate the information. Some charts use clear labels, others require more careful examination. Help your reader learn more about the different ways information can be displayed.
  • Captions – Captions are usually right under photographs, figures, maps, and charts. Captions give a quick summary of what information is presented in the graphic.

As natural learners, young readers are drawn to books that give information about something or explain something they’ve always wondered about. With a little help and guidance about reading nonfiction, you can feel good about introducing your child to a new world of information.

Submitted by Kathi Hart, READ USA Content Specialist

Do you have any questions or ideas for the Parent Education Corner? Anything you’d like to learn? Let us know here!