Aerospace engineer and viral TikToker Joan Melendez Misner said she loved reading “The Magic School Bus” series growing up. Seeing Miss Frizzle take readers around to explore the solar system and their bodies is where her passion for science started.
“So, you know, growing up, reading really did help me figure out that STEM was an area that I was truly interested in,” Melendez Misner said. “So by the time I got to high school and college, you know, all of these dreams that I had when I was five years old, kind of whittled down to maybe two or three passions that I truly had.”
Melendez Misner is one of the local professionals partnering with the New Worlds Reading Initiative during March for their “Reading Shapes Passions” series in honor of National Reading Month. In this series Saoirse Elizabeth, a young reporter, interviews professionals such as a vet tech and an author to explore how their passion for reading led them to their current careers.
Melendez Misner said when she saw an Instagram ad about this opportunity, she was excited to apply to share her lifelong love for reading with the youth. On her TikTok account, she already creates content on what it is like to be an aerospace engineer, and she said she was excited to bring this campaign to her viewers.
“As a kid, you’re interested in so many things. I didn’t just wake up one day as a five-year-old and say, ‘I’m going to be a NASA engineer and launch rockets,’” Melendez Misner said. “You know, I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be a singer. I wanted to be, you know, Inspector Gadget kind of thing. And there are so many different areas that I wanted to explore. And so that’s the beauty of books, is being able to, you know, explore different genres within just even the literacy area.”
Dr. Shaunté Duggins, New Worlds Reading Assistant Director, said the initiative was signed into law in 2021 to provide learning support for students and families across the state. She said because the state of Florida has “invested pretty heavily in literacy,” New Worlds Reading can provide eligible students with free books of a genre of their choice.
Eliminating the costs of obtaining books and resources is a valuable advantage, according to her experience as a former classroom teacher and a mother.
“I’ve heard and know the realities and the struggles that parents face of not always having the resources they need to provide what their children need, even though they may want the best for their kids,” Duggins said. “And so it’s just such a joy to know that we’re able to provide those resources to families who may not have the financial resources to do what they know they would want to do for their children.”
She said they encourage K-5 students who attend public or publicly sponsored charter schools and are not on their grade reading level to apply to the program, as they may be eligible. From there, individuals can receive books that match their language and genre preferences. This aspect of choice is particularly significant for reluctant readers, she added.
Duggins said she has seen readers grow a passion for reading rather than seeing it as a chore assigned by their parents or teachers. As a result, she has seen families grow closer together.
To introduce this program to students, she explained that they have collaborated with numerous schools statewide by organizing literacy nights, delivering workshops for parents on literacy, and providing professional development opportunities for teachers.
Through their campaign “Reading Shapes Passions,” which Melendez Misner is a part of, she said they are trying to emphasize how the power of reading can help students discover something they love.
“Just to even think about how reading can help you to envision yourself as something or to see the possibilities or the opportunities that are there to spark that passion and that love for reading,” Duggins said. “We want kids to have the opportunity to envision what they could be not just today but also in the future.”