Bill Cordell is a literacy volunteer for the BookPALS (Performing Artists for Literacy in Schools) Program. BookPALS, one of the fastest growing literacy programs in the country, is an all-volunteer program administered by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, the charitable, educational and humanitarian arm of the Screen Actors Guild. The BookPALS mission is to stimulate children’s interest in reading and encourage them to read on their own; to awaken young imaginations, enrich vocabularies and open doors to a broader, richer landscape; to help children visualize and see themselves in other realities, and to inspire and motivate children’s ability to communicate and to listen.
BookPALS serves public school children in at-risk areas and those from impoverished immigrant communities where English is not the primary language in the home. BookPALS are professional actors from the Screen Actors Guild and other performing groups who volunteer their time and talent to help at-risk children learn to read and write in English. By combining the talents of professional actors and performers, BooKPALS proves to be a match made in literary heaven, for who better to bring the magic of stories to life than actors, gifted in the art of storytelling? Because BookPALS visit, read to and mentor children on a regular, ongoing basis, they become a familiar figure and thus part of the “learning scene” in a very concrete way. Visits are anticipated, enjoyed, and remembered
The children know to expect their BookPALS and the novelty of their visits adds a good measure of interest and pleasure to the experience. In reading to the children, the gift of BookPALS talents as actors and performers generates excellent storytelling and demonstrates the skills and dynamism that good spoken communication offers.
Sadly, the children in Florida have scored at the bottom of the list of states across the nation in literacy. More than half of Florida’s fourth graders read below their grade level. Children who cannot read independently by the end of third grade have greatly diminished chances of ever catching up; they face higher risks of delinquency and dropping out. This problem adversely affects the community in many ways: Low literacy skills weaken the economy, contribute significantly to the crime rate, and increase the need for higher taxes to sustain social services for the chronically unemployed.
It is estimated that companies “collectively pay $25 billion a year teaching remedial math and reading to entry-level employees.” (USA Today). The Screen Actors Guild Foundation created the BookPALS program to combat illiteracy and to serve the children and families who need them most-those in at-risk, underprivileged communities.