Literacy event featured at PLAYERS Championship


Two dynamic literacy programs were featured Thursday, March 14, as Nemours Children’s Health and THE PLAYERS Championship welcomed Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan and students from the Becoming Collegiate Academy to the tournament’s Kids Zone for a special event.

PLAYERS Executive Director Lee Smith called youth support and education a charitable pillar of the tournament.

“We always want to make a positive impact in the communities in which we play,” he said, “and these types of partnerships allow all our fans, business leaders and volunteers to all come together, to row in the right direction and to support such a great cause.”

Dr. Larry Moss, Nemours Children’s Health president and CEO, spoke about the Reading BrightStart! program, which was founded in 2005. In recognition that literacy and health are closely linked, the program seeks to promote reading for all children, focusing on birth through age 8.

“The difference between life expectancy for a high school dropout compared to a college graduate: 17 years,” Moss said. “And there’s no stronger predictor of finishing high school than reading proficiency in third grade … Those trajectories are set early, and if they’re set in the wrong direction, that’s it for a lifetime. If they’re set in the right direction, that’s an assurance for a lifetime.”

He cited a recent national scorecard that found 37% of children in the United States are struggling to achieve a fourth-grade reading proficiency level.

“Of even greater concern is that the very best readers are not getting better, and the struggling readers are not catching up,” he added.

Reading BrightStart! is currently implemented in 61 of Florida’s 67 counties. It offers a preschool reading screener with a customized list of recommended activities that boost children’s literacy skills.

Moss said participating programs report that at-risk or struggling learners improve their understanding in basic reading concepts by between 98% and 124%.

“We know that literacy is one of the most essential elements to developing young brains, to making sure that kids are ready to succeed in school,” said Dr. Kara Walker, executive vice president and chief population health officer for Nemours Children’s Health. “And when you think about the social drivers that are connected to health outcomes, education success is just one of them.”

Deegan spoke about her River City Readers program, launched citywide in January. Students of all ages are challenged to read 20 minutes a day and log their reading time online. The challenge offers prizes and incentives to the students.

“We’re going to make this super fun all year long, because we know if we can make reading fun for kids, if we can enhance their love of reading, they’ll be readers for a lifetime,” Deegan said.

The program has been wildly successful. In less than two months, the young participants collectively surpassed the goal of 300,000 minutes organizers had set for the entire year. As a result, Deegan announced that the goal has now been increased to a million minutes by year’s end.

Also, Thursday, Deegan read to the children in attendance, who then enjoyed several literacy-related games.

For information about Reading BrightStart! go to For information about River City Readers, go to