One year ago, in December 2019, some of you got to meet a few of the Dreamer school kids and you donated so that I could reach more with an app. I’m writing to let you know our successes and our challenges. This email is NOT a fundraiser. It helps me to know that I am not alone in my desire to save the lives of these children before they ever know their lives were in danger.
Most of my kids are between five and nine years old. They’re heading toward third grade, or are in it. What they don’t know is that if they aren’t reading at grade level by the end of third grade, they will face a 50% unemployment rate for the rest of their lives.
Templeton Foundation Grant
In May of this year the Templeton Foundation gave us a grant to:
Train thirty Christian tutors that will be equipped to implement the Rocket Phonics reading program and its Biblical curriculum.
Help place tutors in Newtown area churches for their after school tutoring programs and Christian schools implementing the Rocket Phonics reading program.
Encourage the tutors to volunteer in the secular school’s after school reading programs. Through those programs develop relations to share their faith and share information about Christian clubs on Campus.
We found four churches willing to try Rocket Phonics and trained 22 tutors for the summer program, Summer Reading Challenge. One of these four churches, Ward Temple AME, had a preschool already in operation, which gave our tutors access to kids five days a week. Avenue941, a non-profit, allowed us to work with 23 of their 50 kids, and two-thirds of these students gained reading skill. (Normally these children lose two months’ skill over the summer–and this summer lasted four months.)
The pandemic panic closed the secular schools’ after-school reading programs. The other three churches decided they were non-essential and started seeing their students virtually, which is not a very good fit for Rocket Phonics. Our tutors adapted as best they could. It has been eight months and the churches are still closed. These closures have postponed goals #2 and #3 and encouraged us to shift our focus to preschools, which were considered essential.
Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK)
I know it might be hard for you to believe that a doctor who started his medical career treating emergencies might want to focus on prevention, but it seems to me that starting the children out at the top of their class rather than playing catch-up would save a lot of grief. The teacher will be happier because her kids can read and the kids will be happier because they will feel confident. Besides with only preschools considered essential, it is the only place I can guarantee my tutors will have students to meet with.
It turns out that VPK preschools are a natural fit for Rocket Phonics: The state wants to get these children ready to read; and our state’s test, given at the start of kindergarten, doesn’t cap out but allows those who can read to demonstrate their skill level.
Since the Summer Reading Challenge ended, we developed a VPK version of Rocket Phonics with different games, a slower pace and designed to bring preschoolers to read above grade level before they reach kindergarten. We will be implementing it with about eight chosen preschools, thanks to the support of the Early Learning Coalition and the Templeton Foundation.
It is our hope that Sarasota County Schools will inform us or the preschool how the children did on their evaluation upon entering kindergarten. Those details will be worked out next year
The App’s Progress
We give thanks to Romanello Consulting! They have Level One of the Rocket Phonics app largely animated and are starting the programming. We expect the app to be beta-tested in January. Beta testing will tell us if four-year-olds can learn to read using this app. Level One is only 11 pages of a 600+ page program, but if it works we will be on our way to bringing Rocket Phonics to the 35 million children who need it.
That’s about it. I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Whether you celebrate these or not, be sure to cherish your friends and family. This time of year is very stressful on everyone.
Thanks again for your support!
Stephen Guffanti, MD
Founder, Rocket Phonics Inc.