By LOIS KINDLE
Two decades ago Christene Worley left her marketing career to start PCAT Literacy Ministries Inc.
Her doing so resulted from an experience she had had as a Vacation Bible School volunteer. After learning children in the 4th- and 5th- grade levels were unable to read properly or sign their names, she decided something should be done.
“I went to State Representative Sandy Murman, and she referred me to the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County,” Worley said. “They told me I’d need to found a nonprofit, and they would help me get a grant to get started. I’ve received their support and funding ever since.”
PCAT is an acronym for Parents and Children Advance Together. It’s an after-school literacy program for children and families living in low-income areas of Hillsborough County, which primarily assists students who are at risk of failing in grades K-2 with reading and reading comprehension tutoring.
“Students who attend PCAT are reading below the required reading level and are recommended to our [free] program by their teachers,” Worley said. “Parents are encouraged to be involved by learning to properly read at home with their children.
Worley believes PCAT’s success over the years is due to the one-on-one reading instruction students receive from PCAT staff and volunteer tutors. Having each child work with the same ones throughout an entire school year builds the trust and consistency conducive for learning, she said.
“I have a heart for these kids,” Worley said. “If a child can’t read properly by the time they’re in third grade, it’s very difficult for them to succeed.”
Worley started the PCAT program four days a week with 40 children in first and second grades at Sulphur Springs Elementary School in Tampa. Eventually, she added kindergarten and went to five days.
Six years ago, with a grant from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Worley started a three-month, PCAT pilot program for first-graders at Ruskin Elementary School.
“In just those three months, the principal couldn’t believe how much the children’s reading scores had improved,” Worley said.
As a result the principal requested PCAT start a full after-school literacy program in the fall. Worley received funding for the entire program with grants from the community foundation and the children’s board. The following year, kindergarten was added.
And for the 2022-2023 school year, second-grade will be added.
The program had also been at Wimauma Elementary School for two years but left due to staffing issues.
PCAT volunteer tutors work with children in kindergarten and first grade at Ruskin Elementary School Monday through Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m. PCAT volunteer tutors focus on teaching kids the alphabet, sounding letters and blending sounds into words; play learning games; and help them work with readers and workbooks.
On a consistent basis, 85% or more of the kindergarten students increase their Developmental Reading Assessment scores by at least two levels, and 85% or more first-grade students increase their scores by at least four levels. Tests are administered by classroom teachers.
A similar percentage of students are promoted to the next grade level.
More than 50% of PCAT’s annual budget is funded by the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County. Worley has received additional grants from organizations like the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Suncoast Credit Union, Rays Baseball Foundation, Interfaith Social Action Council of Sun City Center and 100 Women Who Care.
PCAT Literacy Ministries is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization.
If you’d like to invest in a child’s early education, send a tax-deductible donation to PCAT, P.O. Box 1641, Lutz, FL 33548. Any amount is appreciated.
Volunteers are always needed, training is provided and a minimum of two hours per week is required. Volunteers are paired with the same children every time they work.
This fall, Worley will step back and turn over the program’s reins to WeClaige (Gigi) Moise, who will become executive director. Worley will promote and market the PCAT program and recruit more volunteer tutors.
To sign up as a tutor, become a board member or for more information on the PCAT program, call Worley at 813-598-2103 or email her at email@example.com/.