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Moonshot Moment Family Literacy Festival

There was a whole lotta reading going on at Gifford Middle School during the 2nd Annual Moonshot Moment Family Literacy Festival, a free event to celebrate and promote literacy and the joy of reading.

In the true spirit of community, Moonshot Community Action Network members, local churches, and nonprofits teamed up with The Learning Alliance to celebrate literacy and support the community’s goal for 90 percent of all students to be reading on or above grade-level by the third grade.

Families spent the day immersed in hands-on reading activities for children ranging in age from pre-kindergarten through middle school. According to event coordinator Michele Holiday, the key, was to expose parents to activities they could do at home with their children in minutes instead of hours. “A lot of parents don't have the knowledge to help prepare their children to learn to read. We wanted to equip our parents with activities that they could incorporate at home.”

This is a community-wide effort, according to Holiday. “No one should have to do this alone. We all need to work together to make our community stronger.”

Volunteers from throughout the community were on-hand to lend support. Children designed bookmarks, made book bags, matched alphabet beans, played sight word games, built sentences and wrote their own books. There were word-eating robots, a letter scavenger hunt, hopscotch word challenges, giant boggle and even a check-writing comprehension activity.

La'Niyah Pinckney was deep in thought as she worked on her book. The 9-year-old was writing a story about moving from Miami to Jacksonville. Her aspirations as an author are vast as she explained that she would be reading a poem about her mother's life in the Poetry Jam later in the afternoon.

“I like to read. This is a lot of fun, but it's important to know how to write and read so you can accomplish all kinds of stuff,” explained Pinckney. “You can't learn stuff if you don't know how to read and write.”

Retired educator and co-founder of the Churchill Center & School, Bonnie Wolfarth spent the day working with children at the Book Tasting table. “There is nothing more important than making sure that these children learn to read by the third grade. It's incredible what two moms who saw a need have been able to accomplish.”??Wolfarth noted that she believes The Learning Alliance and their Moonshot Goal has been so successful because they realized early on that they would need to address issues affecting literacy at an early age which makes events like the Family Literacy Festival so important.

Longtime literacy advocate, Carol Pinder said, “It's a blessing to be able to see these children happy and enthusiastic about reading. I am a life-long learner. Every day I learn something that I didn't know the day before. I tell the children if you read, you know things.”

Several guest authors were on hand sharing their books and promoting literacy through their passion for reading and writing. Author William T. Holt's books promote character-building through lessons he learned at his grandfather’s knee; Angela Thomas Peterson shared her love of reading through poetry and anti-bullying; and Tasheba Berry-McLaren's book “Space Station Elementary” was on point with her space-travel-themed book focused on “empowering the minds of students one planet at a time.”

The children worked up an appetite moving from one activity to the next, showing off their new-found literacy skills and were rewarded with pizza before settling in to listen as contestants offered up original poems during the Poetry Slam competition.

Dorrian Bridges took control of the mic reciting several of his original poems in hopes of inspiring young poets. Judges Shawn Frost, Tiffany Justice and Tosha Jones, had a tough time selecting a winner, but in the end, Vivian McFall took home the top prize for her poem, winning an iPad.

In addition to a new appreciation for reading, the children left with books in hand and parents took home a new selection of engaging literacy-based activities to help their children become better readers.

“Literacy is not just reading a book, it's so much more,” explained Holiday. “It's how you speak, how you communicate, what you write, what you say and of course what you read. We just wanted to expose our families, grandparents, parents, aunties and the kids to different activities that would not only be fun but help build their reading, literacy and communication skills. You can make these hands-on activities, and it is something that you can do together as a family.”

?To learn more about the Moonshot Moment Goal, visit moonshotmoment.org.