Prince George’s County Public Schools announced a new literacy initiative Wednesday called PGCPS READS that will provide small group reading instruction to students.

Prince George’s County Public Schools will partner with professional tutors, community leaders and nonprofit organizations to pair volunteers with 4,000 students in kindergarten through second grade, according to the announcement. The adult volunteers will spend one to two hours per week reading virtually with their students.

“Our goal is to make sure that our students receive quality education at all times,” Prince George’s County Public Schools Media Relations Director Gabrielle Brown said.

PGCPS READS will use BookNook, an online reading program, to offer students access to 800 different texts in English and Spanish, according to the announcement. Michael Lombardo, the founder and CEO of BookNook, said he is excited to work with Prince George’s County Public Schools.

“We have seen the power of programs like this all across America and are excited to partner with PGCPS to bring the community together to support students,” he said.

BookNook is a social enterprise that is on a mission to close the early reading opportunity gap for students, according to Lombardo. They do this by providing technological solutions to school districts and nonprofit organizations to help them give children from kindergarten to fifth grade a proper education.

A literacy crisis existed before the pandemic but has been exacerbated by school closures, Lombardo said. School closures have disproportionately affected children of color and children who are economically disenfranchised.

“The need for what we do has never been greater,” he said.

There are two things that make BookNook unique, according to Lombardo. Firstly, it is the only synchronous reading tool on the market which allows adults and children to read together. If a tutor turns a page of a book, then the page will turn on the student’s screen at the same time. Secondly, BookNook uses artificial intelligence to help volunteers who do not have a teaching background be great teachers.

“BookNook is really unique in that we do this together,” Lombardo said.

BookNook will provide data to the school districts and classroom teachers so they will see the progress students make during virtual learning.

“BookNook is a great company and program that is already well established in this field,” Brown said.

The coronavirus pandemic has prevented teachers from giving students the hands-on education they need, Brown said. PGCPS READS is meant to be an additional outreach to students to close the gap between them and their tutors.

“We are developing initiatives like this to provide wraparound services to all students,” she said.

“We are embarking on an unprecedented initiative to bring our community together during virtual learning,” Monica Goldson, CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools, said. “Today’s announcement will provide our youngest learners with greater support and enrichment, while also providing them with access to Reading Guides who can share the experience of a fun and exciting book.”

Prince George’s County Public Schools is planning to launch PGCPS READS sometime in November, Brown said. They will be reaching out to the community and asking adults to volunteer.

Lombardo is also urging people to get involved.

“It’ll be a great experience, you will love it,” he said. “So raise your hand, get involved, be part of the solution.”