For the people of Hillsborough County in Florida, an effort to make digital books available to all children was a true community partnership focused on improving literacy rates across the county.
This spring, the Hillsborough County School District—in partnership with the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, which invests in more than 120 family and youth programs in the county—will offer myON Reader to local children of all ages. With a total county population of more than 1.2 million, it’s a major effort, says John Milburn, a supervisor of the school district’s Library Media Services, which oversees media specialists and library services.
The Children’s Board, which has a budget of nearly $35 million, was created by Hillsborough voters in 1988 as a way to invest a portion of property tax revenue back into the community. The 10-member board comprises elected and governor-appointed community members.
Milburn says that the drive for myON started last fall when he casually spoke to a Children’s Board member about the benefits of myON, which has been used in the school district’s Title I elementary schools for the last year. Excited about the product’s potential to increase literacy, the board agreed to look into offering it to the community as a way to improve literacy rates, especially in low-income neighborhoods. The idea turned into a multigroup effort with help from funding partners including the United Way, the Hillsborough County Public Library system, the Head Start preschool program, and the Tampa Housing Authority. “We all got together for a final meeting last October, and we started putting together a plan to make it happen,” says Milburn.
In January, the school board voted to fund the lion’s share of the annual cost—an estimated $1 million—with the outside agencies agreeing to fund $300,000. The school district and its partners are now in the process of developing a special Web site and login code so myON can be accessed at local libraries and personal computers anywhere in the county.
The Tampa Housing Authority is working on providing computers in its government-funded homes so disadvantaged children can have access to myON, as well. “It’s been a great community effort to provide these books,” Milburn says. “We really saw this as a unique project, and everyone has really been on board from the beginning. We think this is going to be a very powerful tool.”