DAVENPORT – It’s called The Giving Tree, but it’s not an environmental project.
For the students at the Four Corners Charter School in Davenport, it’s a program designed to show what can be done to help others in need – and to actually give the students a chance to make a difference in the lives of fellow students.
The key goal is a simple but important one: developing a love for reading.
“One of our character traits is community service and involvement,” said David Alba, the executive director of the Clarion Council for Educational Greatness, an organization based in Fort Lauderdale that’s dedicated to building character education in schools.
They launched a new project this year called The Giving Tree, which encourages students and teachers to hold book drives, and collect books that can be given to students who, through no fault of their own, simply can’t afford to buy books.
Helping those students to develop a passion for reading is also important, Alba said.
“The Clarion Council is a not-for-profit that brings character education to schools,” Alba said. “Its design is to help the students.”
Giving them the opportunity to read good books, he said, is critical, since “Studies show that 55 percent of children who receive an age appropriate book have a higher level of reading skills,” Alba said.
But what the council needs is local schools to participate, and that’s where Charter Schools USA stepped in.
Charter Schools USA is one of the largest providers of charter school management services in the state of Florida, managing private and municipal charters for grades Pre-K through 12. Two of the local schools that Charter Schools USA supervises are taking part in the Giving Tree book drive: the Four Corners Charter School and Canoe Creek Charter Academy in St. Cloud. As part of the Giving Tree program, administrators at both schools are encouraging area residents to drop off new and slightly used books, so they can be put in the hands of students at other Charter School USA schools and academies where some students may not be able to afford them.
The books will be put in the hands of students at any CSUSA school where more than 70 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunches. This program will receive the books to distribute to its students by June 8, so that the kids will have new books for the summer.
“It is a huge need,” said Colleen Reynolds, public relations counselor for Charter Schools USA. “That’s why I think this is a great program. Sometimes people don’t like to give, because they don’t know where the money goes. But giving a book is just so terrific. It’s a great program.”
One of the schools expected to benefit from the book drive is the PM Wells Charter Academy in Kissimmee. More than 77 percent of the students there qualify for the free and reduced price lunch program.
“Giving ready access to books will improve the reading achievement of low-income children,” said Ramiro Borja, principal of PM Wells Charter Academy.
As Ramiro noted, statistics from the National Center for Education indicate that the gap between children from low and high-income families on reading comprehension scores is a huge 40 point spread. Children from low-income families on average score 27 points below the mean reading level score for all students, he noted, while the children from wealthier families tend to score 15 points above the average.
That’s why the two nearby charter schools are collecting the books, so the students won’t be denied access to good reading materials simply because of their economic status, Ramiro said.
“The U.S. Department of Education states that 55 percent of children who receive a new age-appropriate book of their own had an increased interest in reading, and the percent of young adults with a high interest in reading jumped from 23 percent to 61 percent,” Borja said.
From now until Friday, May 18, area residents can donate new or used books intended to be read for elementary and middle school students to either the Four Corners Charter School at 9100 Teacher Lane in Davenport, or at the Canoe Creek Charter Academy at 3600 Canoe Creek Road in St. Cloud.
It also helps teach those students collecting the book that doing something positive for others is a worthwhile endeavor, Alba said.
“If some of the students can help out other students, then it really is great for us,” he said.
The Four Corners Charter School is a tuition-free public accredited charter school serving students in grades Kindergarten through 8. Four Corners Charter School accepts students from the counties of Osceola, Polk, Orange and Lake.
Charter schools are funded much like a public school, but each charter school is governed privately.
For more information about the Clarion Council, visit www.clarioncouncil.com. To learn more about Charter Schools USA, visit www.charterschoolsusa.com.