Fort Myers-based BelieveNBooks has launched a new initiative, PageTurner, to help preschool-aged children become better readers at an early age.

PageTurner is a YouTube channel featuring videos of Southwest Florida teens reading children’s books. Students are provided corresponding books, allowing them to read alongside their digital reading partners.

BelieveNBooks, which has a mission of providing children with books to expand their horizons and enhance their understanding of the world, launched PageTurner on Aug. 15 at Guadalupe Center in Immokalee. More than 115 students were given backpacks containing 10 books each, including titles like Clifford Makes the Team, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Flat Stanley Goes Camping and more. Parents were provided a postcard with a QR code to quickly access the YouTube video library.

“I loved getting to meet each of the kids and hearing their comments about the books that they received,” said BelieveNBooks Founder Natasha Agarwal, a 15-year-old freshman at Canterbury School in Fort Myers. “It was incredible to see their reactions as they opened their bags and realized that everyone was getting to take the books home. You don’t always have an opportunity to see the people you’re helping, so being there to distribute the books and meet each of the kids made it even more rewarding.”

Research shows a strong correlation between reading ability and academic achievement, and that starts years before students begin kindergarten. Children build language and literacy skills by regularly seeing and hearing words coupled with corresponding objects or photographs, an intentional combination that creates a direct sensory connection for young learners.

“As a result, children’s emergent literacy skills develop into literacy competency and confidence, which enables them to read at an early age and thrive in the classroom,” said Angela Anderson, Guadalupe Center’s director of curriculum and professional development. “Researchers estimate there is a million-word gap between children whose parents read to them at home and children whose parents don’t, whether it’s language barrier, lack of time or lack of resources.”

Guadalupe Center, which offers a nationally accredited Early Childhood Education Program, also offers Smart Start, a program that addresses cultural, social, financial, language and transportation barriers that can prevent parents from exploring opportunities for an early childhood education. Courses show parents how to facilitate in-home learning and ensure that children are reaching age-appropriate developmental milestones.

“We know our students are benefiting from a high-quality education during the school day, but to be successful, they must continue reading and learning at home,” said Guadalupe Center President Dawn Montecalvo, who serves on BelieveNBooks’ Board of Directors. “PageTurner is a great opportunity for young children to have someone read along as they learn to sound out syllables and words, and eventually read entire sentences.”

Shortly after BelieveNBooks launched in 2021, the organization provided more than 3,500 books to Guadalupe Center students following a two-week book collection at Canterbury School. The organization has since supported reading programs through more than a dozen nonprofit partners across Southwest Florida.

The first PageTurner series includes 10 books and corresponding videos, and Agarwal plans to expand the library with additional community support, and perhaps grow PageTurner into a statewide or national program. For more information about BelieveNBooks or to support the PageTurner initiative, please visit BelieveNBooks.org or email info@BelieveNBooks.org.

About Guadalupe Center
Guadalupe Center is a purpose-driven nonprofit organization with proven success in creating endless possibilities for the students of Immokalee through education, as well as fostering personal and academic success that leads to economic independence. Established in 1984, Guadalupe Center is a premier, education-focused organization that delivers outstanding results: 95% of students in the nationally accredited Early Childhood Education Program meet or exceed kindergarten readiness standards; 100% of students in the After-school Tutoring & Summer Enrichment Program demonstrate significant gains in reading and math; and 100% of seniors in the college-preparatory Tutor Corps Program graduate from high school and are accepted into college, with more than 94% ultimately earning a college degree. With a mission to break the cycle of poverty through education, Guadalupe Center serves more than 1,750 students annually and is generously supported by private donors, philanthropic organizations and community partners. For more information, please visit GuadalupeCenter.org or call 239-657-7711.