Title 1 School Avoids Summer Slide with Scholastic's Reading Program

Jennifer Haynes - Media Specialist, Belvedere ElementaryBelvedere Elementary School in Palm Beach County, Florida, is busy making plans once again to help set a world record for reading.

Last summer, the school’s 550 K-5 students placed 6th worldwide in Scholastic’s Read for the World, part of Scholastic’s Summer Challenge, a global literacy campaign that encourages kids to read and track their reading minutes during the summer break. And, for the first time in the school’s history, FCAT diagnostic tests showed no decline in reading scores between spring and fall.

It was an impressive achievement for a Title 1 school where 91 percent of students receive free or reduced lunches and 85 percent speak another language besides English. Instrumental in guiding the school to its success was Book Fair Chairperson Jennifer Haynes, who received the full support of Principal Diane Mahar.

“I thought Scholastic’s Read for the World program would help motivate our kids to read over the summer,” Haynes said. “She was very supportive of the program, because it aligned perfectly with her reading goals for the summer.”

Mahar started the pages turning by applying for a "Partners in Print" grant from the Pew Foundation. When a much-needed check for $9,000 arrived last spring, they used part of the funds to keep the campus library open for the summer, giving kids access to books during a period when reading typically declines.

They were able to stretch the funds even more by inviting AARP summer volunteers to staff the campus library two days per week. They also were able to use Scholastic dollars to purchase books at a pre-summer Book Fair to be read by students over the break.

Next, Haynes, Mahar and other school staff formed a "Literacy Leadership Team" to brainstorm strategies for enticing kids to read over the summer. Out of those strategy sessions, they created a Classroom Reading Plan that gave students a role in deciding what they would read and how much they would read during the break.

In the weeks leading up to the official kick-off, teachers held a series of events to motivate kids. To gear up for a summer full of reading, students swapped gently-used books, read aloud to each other, and hand made bookmarks.

Towards the end of the school year, after its Book Fair, the school hosted a pep rally to officially kick off the Read for the World Record competition.

“All of our teachers dressed up as characters, and Principal Mahar led a sing-along with students to promote reading. We made sure the kids were really hyped up for summer reading,” Haynes said.

Then, on the last day of school, everyone joined together for a big “reading send-off.”

“We gave the students a folder with four books each, reading logs, and Read for the World Record passwords, and we showed them how to log their minutes online,” Haynes said. “Letting them log onto the website a couple of times to practice entering their minutes really helped motivate them.”

When school let out for the summer, the kids kept track of their reading minutes from day to day, with about 10 percent logging their time at the school library or on their home computer and the rest tracking their minutes manually and entering their time upon their return to school.

The school kept its media center open the entire summer, staffed by volunteers who would read to students, help them check out books and log their reading minutes online.

The results were terrific. FCAT diagnostic tests showed absolutely no drop-off in reading scores between spring and fall of 2010. Belvedere's book-happy students managed to overcome the all-too-typical "summer slide" by devoting a few minutes each day to reading – an achievement many better-funded schools would have loved to duplicate.

“We were absolutely amazed by the results of the Read for the World Record challenge. It was our first time participating, so I didn’t know what to expect from our students. But then we found out that, at one point, we were in third place, and I was totally blown away that we could do this,” Haynes said.

“We’re very excited about having our name in the Scholastic Book of World Records as the 6th-place finisher. I keep pointing it out to our kids: ‘Look. There we are! We did it!’” she said.

And guess what? Haynes, Mahar and all the Belvedere students are eagerly looking forward to participating in this summer’s Read for the World Record challenge. But this time, they’re upping the ante and will send each of the kids home with 10 "just right" books, instead of four, when school lets out in May.

“We don’t want anybody to beat us this year!” Haynes said.

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