Orlando Magic Focus on Education to Provide a Bright Future for All Youth

By Trish Wingerson
August 21, 2012

ORLANDO -- Did you know 80% of preschool and after-school programs serving at-risk children have no access to books? And as a result, by age four children will hear 32 million fewer words than children who read on a daily basis and have access to books in their home. To put those startling statistics into perspective, studies have shown that children who don’t learn to read by the second grade often fall badly behind their counterparts and struggle to ever catch up later in school. This can have a devastating effect on a child’s confidence and future success.

The Orlando Magic is planting seeds of success through the development of multiple programs and partnerships to help Central Florida youth flourish. It is with that goal in mind, the Magic has made literacy/education one of its three community focus areas.

“The Magic has made literacy and education one of our main points of emphasis in the community,” said Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins. “Educating our youth is really the key to the success of our community and obviously reading plays a fundamental role in learning.”

The Magic has built reading and learning centers, donated books, developed and donated money to reading programs and created events celebrating education. Each limb contains a little piece in the direction of something larger, building a child’s confidence and literacy skills branch by branch.

“Kids learn to read up unto the second grade and then they read to learn,” said Cindy Williams, executive director of the Foundation for Orange County Public Schools’ Read 2 Succeed program. “So if they don’t enter third grade with good fluency and literacy skills it’s just really tough for them to catch up.

“You can see it in the FCAT scores. You can see where the third graders are testing and see that about 71 percent are reading at the third grade level,” Williams continued. “You can look at the 71 percent or say that almost 30 percent aren’t reading at their level. But taking that 71 percent, by the time they get to 10th grade it’s down to 36 percent are reading at grade level. So it’s a steady downhill slope from third grade to 10th grade, and the problem is that we’re not teaching literacy. When they get to third grade we stop teaching reading, so we’re looking at how we can integrate in all of our subjects literacy help so that the children are reading all of the time.”

It is through multiple programs and partnerships that the Magic has created a tiered approach to help conquer this important task.

Baskets for Books
The Orlando Magic has partnered with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida for the Baskets for Books program. Through the program, for every point made by the Magic at each home game one book will be donated to the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County. Approximately 12,000 books have been donated since program inception two seasons ago. The Early Learning Coalition ensures children ages birth to five experience the benefits of developmentally appropriate, research based early education services with the goal of school readiness success.

Reading and Learning Centers
Over the past six years, the Magic and Kia Motors have renovated ten Reading & Learning Centers in the Central Florida area. The centers created/renovated include the John H. Bridges Community Center/Apopka Branch Boys & Girls Club; Nap Ford computer lab; Colonialtown Neighborhood Center Reading and Learning Center; Northwest Community Center Reading and Learning Center; Jackson Community Center computer lab presented by Hunt; Hi-Tech Tutoring Reading and Learning Center; Pine Hills Reading and Learning Center; Dr. James R. Smith Neighborhood Center and the New Image Youth Center in Parramore all presented by Kia Motors. The renovations reflect the Magic and Kia Motors commitment to the advancement of literacy in Orlando, and its goal to create an environment conducive to learning and play where children can excel academically and socially.

Take Stock in Children
The Orlando Magic Youth Fund, a McCormick Foundation Fund (OMYF-MFF), provided a $100,000 grant in 2011 to Valencia Community College Foundation for its Take Stock in Children program. Take Stock in Children was established in 1995 as a non-profit organization in Florida that provides a unique opportunity for deserving low-income youth/students, many from minority families, to escape the cycle of poverty through education. The program offers students college scholarships, caring volunteer mentors and hope for a better life. The services start in middle school, continue through high school and include their transition into college. The Magic has a long-standing partnership with Take Stock in Children, donating more than $130,000 to their efforts.

Read 2 Succeed
The OMYF-MFF, provided $70,000 in grants over the past two years to the Foundation for Orange County Public Schools for its Read 2 Succeed program. The program is set up to aggressively attack literacy problems among young children to ensure success later in school and in life. In the program, volunteer mentors work with students on a weekly basis to assist them with their reading. They read to the students and listen as the student reads aloud. Also, the students are paired with their peers so they are reading five days a week. Through this program students have shown more confidence, better self-worth and a fuller understanding of school work.

OMYF-MFF Grants
This past year alone, the OMYF-MFF, has distributed nearly $700,000 in grants to local non-profit organizations for their education programs. In addition to the organizations already mentioned (Valencia Community College Foundation’s Take Stock in Children program and the Foundation for Orange County Public Schools’ Read 2 Succeed program) the OMYF-MFF has distributed grants to the Adult Literacy League, Apopka Family Learning Center (Justice & Peace Office), Boys and Girls Club of CF, Bridges of Light Foundation, Community Coordinated Child Care (4C), Early Learning Coalition, Foster Grandparent Program, Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools, Inc., Foundation for Seminole State College of Florida, Foundation of Osceola Education, GROWS Literacy Council, Hope CommUnity Center and The Conductive Education Center of Orlando.

Orlando Magic and OCPS Summer Reading Initiative
The Orlando Magic is participating in Orange County Public Schools Summer Reading Initiative to keep students’ reading on track when school is out for the summer. The program’s mission is to create, develop and deploy a district-wide summer reading program for Orange County Public Schools students and families that will encourage students to read literature selections from the district’s recommended reading list, school-based reading lists, a partnership with the Orange County Public Library Systems, select book stores, and myON Reader (a digital library that will give all Orange County Public School students access to 2,500 grade-level books). Individuals participating in the contest will be eligible to receive rewards:

· The student who spends the most time reading this summer will receive an iPad.
· The student who spends the second-most time reading will receive a Kindle Fire.
· The student who spends the third-most time reading will receive an iPod touch.
· Every student who spends 30 hours or more reading this summer will receive tickets to a select Orlando Magic game.
· The school with the most time spent reading will be crowned with the Orange County Summer Reading Championship Title. The school will receive a commemorative trophy to be displayed at their school.

Back to School
To further enhance the Orlando Magic’s commitment to education, over the past two summers the team has donated more than 1,500 backpacks with supplies to children at the Parramore Kidz Zone (PKZ) and those enrolled in the local community centers and Magic/Orange County community gyms. To tip off this 2012-13 school year, the Magic held a “Back to School Bash” on August 7 at the Downtown Recreation Center for youth from the PKZ. The event provided lunch and supply-filled backpacks for each child as well as free haircuts courtesy of the Paul Mitchell School and Hairvolution. Other activities for the PKZ kids featured inflatables, rock walls, video game truck, laser tag, water relay games along with appearances from Magic talent and STUFF. Additional backpack and supply contributors included Dixon Ticonderoga Prang Power, the Glen Davis Foundation, UnitedHealthcare, PepsiCo, Amway, McDonald’s and Florida Blue with additional event contributions provided by Fox Sports Florida, Power 95.3, Star 94.5 and Florida Hospital.

The importance of reading cannot be understated. Constantly having to play catch up with other students can have enormous consequences, with further research showing that each year almost 1/3 of public high school students fail to graduate and every day in America 7,000 students drop out. An estimated 12 million students will dropout this next decade, costing our nation $3 trillion. Not to mention, the effects an uneducated society can have on future generations and our country. Nobody knows this better than the teachers and administrators that work in the school system.

“You’ve got to catch it early with the children and give them success and confidence, and you have to keep at it too. We can’t stop helping these kids,” said Williams. “What the Magic have done says that they are truly a part of the community. They are looking at creating good citizenship and making an effort to bring our young people up in a way that they will be able to contribute when they become adults. It’s a good corporate citizen like the Magic that does the things that they are doing.”