This Week at READ USA

Literacy Tutoring

READ USA Teen Leaders Inspire Adults with Career Knowledge

  • Read USA Inc.
  • July 10 2024

During the past six weeks, our Summer Leadership Academy teen tutors have been traversing Duval, visiting many locations and meeting business, community, and government leaders in various sectors to learn about many different careers and the pathways that can lead to them.

As their summer of career exploration and leadership development comes to a close this week, yesterday and today our tutors presented to guest advisors about a career they are inspired and passionate about pursuing in their future. But let us say, it was our team and guest advisors who left that room feeling inspired! These teen tutors are the future leaders of tomorrow!


As part of their capstone Summer Leadership Academy project, tutors created information boards that described their future careers, the skills required, earnings, employment outlook, and, most importantly, what makes them a good fit. Guest advisors visited with each tutor while Summer Leadership Academy advisors scored tutors on their knowledge of those items as well their professional attire and demeanor.

From being a software engineer to a trauma surgeon to an elementary educator, our READ USA team and guest advisors were invigorated to see and hear all the knowledge our teen tutors gained about their careers of choice and their “why” behind choosing that career. Even if they change course in the coming years – as many of us have done in our careers! – the skills they learned in how to align their skills, interests, and passions with stimulating careers will stay with them forever.

We are thrilled to see these tutors continue to grow and thrive as they pursue their desired careers. We know they will accomplish incredible things for themselves, their fields of interest, and their communities!

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We are grateful for our guest advisors who took the time to meet so attentively with our teen tutors, including Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) leadership and many other community leaders and volunteers. Our particular thanks go to DCPS Superintendent Dr. Christopher Bernier for joining us and meeting with the tutors, as well as Deputy Superintendent Dr. Dana Kriznar, Chief Academic Officer Paula Renfro, DCPS School Board Chair Darryl Willie, and DCPS Board Members Dr. Kelly Coker and Cindy Pearson. Thank you also to Melissa Ross from the Mayor’s office; Wanda Willis from the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida; Coretta Hill from United Way of Northeast Florida; READ USA Board Member Vincent Taylor; and READ USA Advisory Council Member Susan D. Brandenburg for joining us as well!

Check out some of the tutors and their presentation boards!

Alanis, Counseling Psychologist


“Your mind is your greatest strength.”

Chloe, Trauma Surgeon


“Nothing is impossible. To be where I’m from, perseverance is essential.”

April, Elementary Education


“In the education field, there is always room for growing.”

Brianna, Graphic Design


“I like how art can give people a message.”

Layla, Dean of Students


“This career is my passion! It involves children that are somewhere that I once used to be.”

Teen Tutors Glean and Share Insights  

The Summer Leadership Academy tutors learned from local nonprofit leaders about potential careers in the nonprofit sector while also having the unique opportunity to share their own perspectives about school attendance yesterday. It was a morning filled with insights, thoughtful discussion, and sharing!

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The morning kicked off with a panel discussion led by our CEO Dr. Rob Kelly, where he asked four nonprofit leaders to discuss the many different types of roles and responsibilities available in a nonprofit organization and how they lead and serve. We are thankful that these exceptional community leaders took the time to join us and share insights with our tutors:

  • Kimberly Allen, CEO of 904WARD
  • Allishia Bauman, Senior Vice President and Executive Director, City Year Jacksonville
  • David Garfunkel, President & CEO, LIFT JAX
  • Susan King, President & CEO, Feeding Northeast Florida

Each of these leaders shared their unique perspectives about how nonprofit organizations provide a great opportunity for cross-skill learning, as nonprofit professionals tend to wear many hats in their organizations, and to try different things. In addition to a Q&A, they also shared how a nonprofit role can also be an entrepreneurial experience: people work in the nonprofit sector because they see problems that they want to solve, and then figure out how to work collaboratively to solve them.

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Allishia Bauman shared a particularly insightful metaphor: be like a hummingbird! Hummingbirds hover over many flowers, taking from one to contribute to the next, and how a career path may look different than the original flight path you thought you would take.

Many thanks to all of you for joining us and giving our teen tutors an inside look at your roles and organizations!

Following the panel discussion, our Summer Leadership Academy tutors were able to share their own insights!

As a leading partner of READ JAX, the local grade-level reading campaign, READ USA asked students to share their thoughts about improving school attendance. On-time arrival to school and overall school attendance are issues the Mayor’s Office, READ JAX, DCPS, KHA, READ USA, and other partners are collectively working to improve in Duval County. It’s simple – if students aren’t at school, we can’t teach them! So READ USA offered 74 teens, mostly DCPS high school students, an opportunity to provide city leaders insights on school attendance. The teens were divided into 10 groups, each assigned a city leader to listen, and prompted to discuss the following questions: 

  • What are barriers that can prevent students of any age from attending school?
  • What are potential solutions to those barriers?
  • Discuss the importance of starting school (e.g., kindergarten) on the right foot and being prepared to begin their school career, and suggestions on how to better prepare students.

As current or former high school students themselves, this was a unique opportunity for district leadership to learn directly from students about barriers and challenges they face. Facilitated by Strategist Tina Wirth, who is leading the initiative for the school district, the tutors eagerly shared suggestions and recommendations for the district, teachers, and their fellow students. Let us just say that all the adults in the room learned something new yesterday morning!

Many thanks to our guest advisors who facilitated the tutor discussions at each table, including Summer Leadership Academy directors Katrina Rock and Gretchen Benton; DCPS leadership including Deputy Superintendent Dr. Dana Kriznar and School Board Member Dr. Lori Hershey; Kids Hope Alliance CEO Dr. Saralyn Grass; City Year Jacksonville Executive Director Allishia Bauman; READ USA Board Member Vincent Talyor; and READ USA team members Sydney King, Development Director, and Joe Wolf, Chief Communications Officer. Thank you all for taking the time to guide these discussions – and most importantly, thank you to our teen tutors for sharing their perspectives!

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Partner Feature: Dr. Jennifer Kane, University of North Florida

In 2022, Dr. Jennifer Kane stepped into the role of Interim Dean at the University of North Florida (UNF) College of Education and Human Services. Having served as associate dean and professor for several years, it was intended to be a relatively short stint as interim dean, a position she was ideally positioned for given her 24-year history at UNF.

Dr. Jennifer Kane

Fast forward two years, and UNF announced last month that Dr. Stephen W. Ditmore will become dean of the college on July 22nd. While Jennifer is excited to return to her role as associate dean and professor and support Dr. Ditmore’s transition, her two-year service as interim dean formalized a strong partnership with READ USA that will continue to flourish in the years to come.

“Working with students who aspire to be teachers has evolved over the years I’ve been here,” said Dr. Kane. “Up until 2018, colleges of education at universities across the country were large and very robust – we had a lot of folks choosing to go into education. There wasn’t a need for much recruitment, and our college of education was one of the largest colleges at UNF.”

However, around 2019 – and especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, which created a pivot in the profession – educations programs across the country, including the College of Education and Human Services at UNF, have taken a hit, Dr. Kane shared.

“It’s much harder to recruit teachers into the profession. So, we have shifted to be more strategic and purposeful around recruitment. We are really looking for students who strive to make a difference in the lives of others. We have strategically focused on what a difference teachers make in the lives of students and that, despite the negative messaging that’s out there, there are a lot of positive reasons to choose teaching.”

This is what has led to partnerships like UNF’s with READ USA, Dr. Kane stated enthusiastically. “We asked ourselves, how do we capture the students that have the desire to make a difference? Well, READ USA has that exact population of students who are interested in being mentors, teachers, educators. It’s a natural group of people to cultivate and develop into wanting to enter the teaching profession, if that is their calling.”

Dr. Kane further discussed the importance of putting intentional effort, now more than ever, into building relationships within the community and with potential student candidates is vital to recruitment.

“Two years ago, Dr. Kelly and I started a conversation about how we could become deeper partners. That two-year journey led us to where we are today, which is a truly collaborative partnership. READ USA and our college have the same goals: to help make the Jacksonville community stronger by improving educational outcomes of public-school students. And we do that by developing strong teachers, tutors, and mentors who are helping students become better readers and perform better academically overall, which ultimately leads to more productive citizens and opportunities.”

Dr. Kane added, “We talk about a pipeline of future educators. What we’d love to see is an elementary student who is being tutored in READ USA want to later become a READ USA tutor. And then tutors who want to come to UNF, because of our partnership, and become teachers. Then go back into a classroom that hosts READ USA, so it’s truly a pipeline of people with passion for education and wanting to give back.”

Our CEO Dr. Rob Kelly shared similar remarks, stating, “Our partnership with UNF broadens the reach and impact of both of our organizations, and Dr. Kane has continually done a phenomenal job during her time at UNF in preparing the next generation of educators. Her heart and passion mirror ours at READ USA, and we are grateful for not only her partnership, but the tireless effort she has demonstrated especially during the past two years in keeping the College running smoothly.”

READ USA is grateful for all that you do for UNF’s aspiring educators and our community overall, Dr. Kane!

Children’s Book: Jabari Jumps, by Gaia Cornwell

Written and illustrated by Gaia Cornwellbook

Young Jabari decides today is the day he is going to jump from the diving board, even though it’s a little high and a little scary.

Jabari’s father and baby sister accompany him to the swimming pool in the city, where Jabari has already made up his mind about today’s goal: jumping off the diving board. “I’m a great jumper,” he says, “so I’m not scared at all.” But that’s not entirely true. Readers see Jabari play the waiting game as the other children make their way past him in line. Once Jabari finally begins to climb up, he slyly remembers that he forgot to “stretch.” The stalling techniques don’t faze his dad, who sees an opportunity for a life lesson. “It’s okay to feel a little scared,” offers his dad at the side of the pool. With renewed will, Jabari returns to the towering diving board, ready to embrace the feat. A bird’s-eye view of Jabari’s toes clinging to the edge of the diving board as he looks way, way down at the blue pool below puts readers in his head and in the action.

In a sweetly appealing tale of overcoming your fears, Gaia Cornwall captures a moment between a patient and encouraging father and a determined little boy who you can’t help but root for.

Submitted by Kathi Hart, READ USA Content Specialist

Parent Education Corner: How to Prevent “Summer Slide”

This week we will discuss how to prevent your child from losing what they learned in school during summer vacation, a.k.a., the “Summer Slide.”

What is Summer Slide?

A study of children in 3rd to 5th grades showed that students lost, on average, about 20% of their school-year gains in reading during summer break. This significant loss of reading knowledge over the summer break tends to have a snowball effect as they experience subsequent skill loss each year.

What Can Parents Do to Help?

The good news is that reading skills are not hard to maintain over the break! There are many ways to keep children engaged in reading over the summer.

  1. Let children read what they want.

Children will not gain as much from summer reading if they aren’t truly enjoying it. They should have access to a wide variety of books that they enjoy reading and are fully able to comprehend.

  1. Make time for smart play.

Games and puzzles are a great way for children to brush up on their basics while having fun at the same time. For example, create sight word games by writing sight words on index cards and playing popular card games (Memory Game, Go Fish, Old Maid).

  1. Get out of the house.

Experts have found that novelty stimulates the brain and promotes learning. Visiting a historic site or even simply reading together at a local park can help your child get more excited about reading and learning. You can also visit locations inspired by the books you read together (a planetarium, the beach, a museum, a national park).

  1. Use your imagination.

Children who use their imagination are also expanding their vocabularies and experimenting with new concepts. Even though it may not seem like your child is directly “learning” when they’re dressing up as superheroes, princesses or pirates; or dreaming up new worlds and creatures to build with their Lego sets; your child is still calling on familiar skills and developing new ones. You could even play “theatre” and put on a show inspired by all the great summer books you are reading together.

Remember that summer is most importantly a time for fun, but learning should not be forgotten over the summer break. Working to prevent the summer slide will help your child return to school with a spring in their step and no gaps in their knowledge.

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!


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