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A Library System, a School District, a Middle School
Share Vision for Promoting Summer Reading
A public library system, a low-income school district, and a suburban middle school – what do these have in common? Simply put, a vision – a vision for helping students succeed through energetic, creative summer reading programs that take full advantage of technology and community partnerships.
Here’s how three very different entities put summer reading at the bullseye of their literacy efforts.
San Antonio Public Library System: Reading as a Community Culture
A love for reading trickles down from the top in the city of San Antonio, where Mayor Julian Castro – a father of a preschool-age daughter – sees summer reading as a key to a turnaround in his city’s approach to education by the year 2020.
“Our mayor is very committed to education,” says Viki Ash, coordinator of children’s services for the San Antonio Public Library System. The library serves 1.7 million residents and 16 school districts in the thriving bilingual and bicultural city.
The long-established summer reading club – themed “Dig Into Reading” for this 2013 – requires independent readers to read eight books to complete the requirements, while non-readers must listen to 15. The prize: a certificate signed by the mayor and a free paperback. Students celebrate meeting their reading goals in end-of-summer celebrations at each library, where kids and families can enjoy crafts, activities, and food.
San Antonio’s public libraries partner with schools throughout the area, providing ongoing programs for children and library card access. The library’s website links to recommended reading lists from many of the local school districts.
“Here in San Antonio, we want to raise children who really read, not because someone has given them a big prize for it or because their teachers say they have to read 20 minutes a night. We believe that the best reward for reading is more reading,” Viki says.
Orange County, Florida: Putting Summer Reading in Front of the Community
Orange County – home of Orlando, the vacation capital of the world – is also home to a large low-income population. Sixty-two percent of the district’s 184,000 students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Last summer, the district kicked off its summer reading initiative in a big way – with an activity-laden website, a banner over the infamously busy Interstate 4 that cuts through the county, community partnerships, posters, and even TV commercials. Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins even recorded reverse phone messages to parents about the importance of summer reading.
“Dr. Jenkins wanted to push the love of reading to prevent the summer slide,” says Ella Shanks, the district’s senior administrator of curriculum services. One partner, Curriculum Associates, provided internet-based ebooks. “All students were given access to that over the summer. The system calculated the minutes, and we awarded prizes.”
Struggling students in kindergarten through second grade could attend reading camps that were promoted both from pulpits of innercity churches and by the City of Orlando itself. One hurdle the district encountered, however, was tracking student reading – a hurdle Ella expects the district to overcome this summer.
This year the district is participating for the first time in the Scholastic Summer Challenge to simplify tallying of student reading minutes. Scholastic Book Fairs team members led a coaching session with district representatives to demonstrate the program.
“The research that was presented clearly supported the need for a strong summer reading program, and the ability to present a consistent message to the schools was powerful,” Ella says. “Utilizing the Scholastic Summer Challenge will act as a glue for the district’s summer reading program.”
Walter C. Young Middle School: Reading for All
Walter C. Young Middle School is in the idyllic community of Pembroke Pines in Broward County, Fla. But that’s not the whole story. About 300 of the school’s 1,250 students transfer to Walter C. Young from schools that don’t make annual yearly progress, an option families are given under the No Child Left Behind law.
Principal Chip Osborn won’t allow any child to be left behind. According to seventh-grade reading teacher Hope Fisher, “Mr. Osborn supports the culture of reading at our school. His commitment to literacy is evident by his endorsement of the Scholastic Summer Challenge and a variety of other schoolwide reading initiatives.”
Hope came up with the idea of a read-in, an event in which Chip says he will enthusiastically participate. “On an early-release day, students can be dismissed from classes and join in a reading or literature circle,” Chip says.
Access isn’t limited to classroom libraries. The school’s library doubles as a county library, so the faculty pushes hard for all students to obtain library cards. Hope sent home letters to be signed by parents in which she asked parents to accompany their children to the library to get a library card. She followed it up with calls “to reiterate the importance of supporting our efforts to bring more books into the hands of children by arranging a library visit to obtain a card,” she says.
“The library card is a license to learn and explore the wide range of interests of our middle schoolers as they advance to high school, college, and adulthood. Students are given class credit for obtaining a library card and extra credit for borrowing a library book to read in class,” Hope explains. “It is wonderful to notice the library key tag hanging from student ID lanyards. Walking around with a book in hand has become a student status symbol. Readers are now prepared to enjoy the convenience of checking out library books to read and the ease of electronically tracking summer reading minutes.”
On March 11, the school kicked off its summer reading Book Fair with a rally in which students held up their library cards and mugged for a group photo.
“Schools aren’t always in the unique situation that we’re in with having our own county library,” Chip admits. “When students get their own library cards, they go there with their parents and get oriented. If you start that push during the school year, that’s a great first step toward year-round reading and access to books.”
This year the school is participating in the Scholastic Summer Challenge for the first time. Parents received letters informing them about the library card emphasis and participation in the challenge. Students will become familiar with the challenge’s website during their critical thinking and reading classes “so the process is already established and they’re continuing it over the summer,” Chip says.
The students will also take advantage of the no-cost Scholastic Reading Timer App with the goal of “promoting friendly competition among students. The goal, of course, is for students to meet or beat personal reading goals,” Chip says. “I think those two things – participating in the Scholastic Summer Challenge and using the Scholastic Reading Timer App – will take our summer reading program to the next level.”
Hope is already seeing results with her students. “One student – a non-reader – went ahead and got his library card. He brought it to me and smiled. The next day, he showed me the books he borrowed. Each morning he would come and read near me. I asked if he would like to tell the class what it means for him to be a reader. He asked, ‘What if they won’t listen to me?’ I said, ‘Even if you change one person’s attitude toward reading, that would be something special.’ That’s what we’re looking for: encouraging one reader at a time.”