You are here

Professional Opinion

United Way and the Read on myON program

How a community partnership is using enhanced digital texts to help children become lifelong readers.

As all educators know, reading is the key to lifelong learning, but it can be a challenge outside the classroom, with competition from TV, video games, and other distractions. That’s one reason United Way-Sun Coast has partnered with myON for the “Read on myON” project since 2012.

The Read on myON Project provides myON reader to all children from birth through grade 8 in Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools. The myON reader gives children access to a library of enhanced digital books to encourage reading, increase literacy rates and promote literacy throughout the community.

“From United Way's point of view, one of our major priorities is early literacy and early education,” says Diana Baker, CEO of United Way-Sun Coast. “Our belief that the root cause of a lot of the social issues that we face in our communities is that there is not sufficient education, particularly among folks who have grown up in generational poverty.”

Emery Ivery, senior vice president at United Way of Tampa Bay, says another part of United Way-SunCoast’s mission to increase the graduation rates and provide a future of unlimited potential for all students. “The Read on myON Project has been instrumental in providing an opportunity to collaborate with other community organizations to unite resources and provide children and families an opportunity to create unique reading experiences,” he says. “The goals of the Read on myON project aligns perfectly to the overall mission of the United Way.”


More than 240,000 children in the Hillsborough District have active myON accounts, giving them immediate access to more than 7,000 books in the basic user license. Much like commercial sites such as Amazon and Netflix, myON learns its users preferences. myON reader creates an individual profile for students based on their interests and reading ability and generates a recommended book list that students can use when determining what they want to read. myON's platform includes content from its parent company, Capstone—the leading educational and library publisher of the last 25 years—as well as more than 50 third-party publishers, including 70 percent nonfiction titles and 10 percent Spanish titles.

Fiction and nonfiction books are offered as well as graphic novels. The books feature spoken word audio, sentence highlighting and a built-in dictionary. Importantly, myON also measures comprehension with end-of-the-book quizzes. With the system’s own reading assessment tools, educators can measure and forecast reading growth, track time spent reading, keep an inventory of books read, and more.


United Way knows something about volunteer programs, and the organization manages a team of volunteers, called Reading Pals, to support and advance Read On myON. The Reading Pals, are matched with struggling readers in low-performing reading schools, and afterschool programs. The volunteers meet with their kids and work on reading skill development and reading during that session. The myON Reader is an important tool used in the sessions.

“For the Reading Pals, myON is a foundational piece,” says Baker. “We were always buying and distributing books, but there is a real efficiency created by having a digital library available to all children in our community. They can access it wherever they are, whether it’s the library, community center, an after school programs or at home—wherever they have access to digital technology such as iPhones, iPads, desktop computers or laptops.”

Baker herself is a Reading Pal volunteer. “When I go into my tutoring session, I bring my iPad with the myON Reader app. By itself, the myON app is a great resource, but coupled with other resources, like giving kids computer lab access after school and the opportunity to work on their own in those settings, it reinforces the reading skills they are learning,” she says. “Our role with the district has been to work outside of the school day to get kids involved.”

The volunteers also introduce families to myON and encourage its use in community-based programs, such as the local Head Start, Boys & Girls Club, the YMCA, and Girls Incorporated.

Encouraging children to make reading a lifelong habit is one important goal of Read on myON project. “We push this project during the summer as a way to help address summer learning loss and myON is instrumental to that,” says Ivery. “We are also promoting an awareness campaign to encourage kids to read during the holidays. That’s a time when kids reading tends to drop off.”


Evaluating how the tool is used and what it produces is key to the success of the program. The Read on myON project stakeholders meet monthly to review the results and consistently are amazed with the access to unprecedented data on reading. The back end of the myON system allows educators to evaluate how the tool is being used by kids in the community.

Results matter, and an impressive one is that, in Hillsborough County, the accumulated time spent reading, as measured through myON Reader, exceeds 89 years. In addition, during one 18 month period more than 3 million books were read.

“There are really three benchmarks that we look to,” says Ivery. “First is school readiness scores—kids entering kindergarten—and whether they have the basic skills they are supposed to have when they start school. The others are third grade reading proficiency, and high school graduation. Those are the community level objectives we wanted to pursue when we partnered with myON.” Learn more about how Read on myON has helped the Hillsborugh district.