Building a Better Community
April 20, 2017
Passion For Palmetto
May 17, 2017

To The Four

SUBDECK: Roskamp’s backing crucial new program
WORDS: Lela Rast Hartsaw
PICTURES: Whitney Patton
Have you seen the TV commercial where the announcer says "What if eating only one piece of broccoli would improve your health? What if doing only one push-up would make you stronger?"

Well, those statements couldn't be farther from the truth; however, it has been proven that making a small, repeated effort can and does have big impact. For example, frequently choosing to do push-ups instead of sitting in front of the TV can help make you stronger. There is data to prove it. The following local story is another great example of how the ripple effect of one conversation, one action, or the investment of one-hour per week can bring about tremendous results.

A little over a year ago, Carolyn and Steve Roskamp became interested in finding a solution to a problem. Steve recalled: “When I had a conversation with John Annis of the Sarasota Community Foundation and he informed me that 30% of students in Sarasota County Schools where reading below grade level, I was stunned. He went on to tell me that Manatee County's numbers were worse. I could not believe Manatee County had a staggering 50% of its students reading below grade level expectations.”

Steve and his wife Carolyn wanted to understand the underlying difference between Title I schools in Sarasota and Title I schools just a 30-minute drive to the north in Manatee County. These were similar kids in similar demographics. One of the differences, the Roskamps found, was a dedicated focus on four-year-olds.

That one conversation led to countless others and a core partnership was built between Manatee Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene, The United Way, Manatee Community Foundation, and USF-Manatee. The Soar in 4 pilot program was born through this powerful collaborative effort and put into play the summer of 2016 at Sea Breeze Elementary... thanks to the initial interest, dedication, and financial assistance of Carolyn and Steve Roskamp. The project is aligned with the Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading, which has found, based on national research, that there are five recurring issues affecting the success of each student:

Attendance: If children are not in school, they are not learning. So, a focus on attendance should be the first measure taken in each community. School Readiness: If the expectation is that five year olds are reading by mid-Kindergarten, it makes sense that four-year-olds need to be well prepared to start school when they turn five

. Summer Learning: For decades, we have known kids naturally lose ground academically over the summer unless they are stimulated while on summer break. Sadly, the “summer slide” can be as much as two-months’ worth of reading progress, which is nearly impossible to make up the next year and makes it even more difficult to keep the student on track for grade-level performance.

Healthy Readers: By offering basic vision, dental, and mental health screenings families can stay healthy, miss less school, and perform at their best. Successful Parents: Parents, of course, play the most important role in their children’s education and often need support and guidance along the way. Additionally, research shows that children’s vocabulary skills are linked to their economic backgrounds. By three years of age, there is a 30-million-word gap between children from the wealthiest and poorest families. In a fun, family-inclusive, and child-friendly way the Soar in 4 program thoughtfully addresses each one of these needs.

The premise behind the Soar in 4 is One Family, One Neighborhood at a Time. Because of Carolyn and Steve Roskamp’s initiative, another donor has stepped forward to expand the Soar in 4 program to two additional neighborhoods this summer. These neighborhoods contain Ballard Elementary and Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary. Prior to the beginning of school, the Soar in 4 families will be invited to attend five Family Nights where they will enjoy a free dinner followed by hands-on play experiences, science-based activities, art projects, family reading time, and more. Students and their parents and siblings will get a feel for the school environment so when VPK (Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten) officially begins in August, they are more comfortable and can jump right into learning.

The glue that holds all of this together is a virtual Volunteer Buddy. Every other week, juxtaposed with the Family Nights, the buddy will call the student’s family at home to touch base with them. The buddy is there to answer questions and help the family navigate through the program, reminding them of the fun assignments (like gathering artifacts from a nature walk) for the next week’s meet up.

We all know it is reassuring to have someone guide us through unknown territory like a trusty GPS. The Volunteer Buddy is basically an accountability partner to assure the family’s success.

Soar in 4 is a true collaboration with the support of the Early Learning Coalition, and the Manatee Community Action Agency’s Head Start and Early Head Start. This shared outreach will provide the targeted neighborhoods support, resources, and community engagement activities for all the four-year-old families in those neighborhoods. Some of the activities will be a mobile tinkering van, the Kiwanis Book Mobile, and a free entrance into cultural locations such as the South Florida Museum.

After last summer’s pilot program at Sea Breeze Elementary, principal Greg Sander was pleased to see that the VPK students who had attended the Soar in 4 program, were clearly showing learning gains higher than their counterparts who had not attended the program. The goal is to roll out Soar in 4 to three new schools each year over the next five years so that eventually all of Manatee County’s Title I school principals can proudly report the same findings as Mr. Sander.

Not all families have the same exact needs. In order to ascertain what each area’s needs are, community conversations are required in those areas. Community Conversations are neighbors talking to neighbors to understand what matters to them collectively and involve them in creating and implementing solutions for today and tomorrow.

There has been a Call To Action initiated to find Conversation Leaders in each of the three school communities for the Soar in 4 program. If you think you might be interested in being a Conversation Leader, contact Dr. Sheila Halpin at 941-751-6550 or You won’t be on your own. The program is well defined and training is simple. Keep in mind, the solution to a problem is often found in the very next conversation.

The ripple effect is spreading. One person can’t do it all, but we all can do one thing to help perpetuate the ripple effect in our own communities. Wouldn’t you like to be a part of that?

• Please visit the website for Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading at for more information and access to all the research that shows programs like Soar in 4 can and will make a difference in our children’s futures - one volunteer hour at a time thanks to compassionate people like Carolyn and Steve Roskamp.

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