Slowing the Summer Slide

By Becky Calzada, Guest Blogger

Summer is almost upon us. Parents, students, and teachers are getting excited about vacations, but all over the country, many teachers and librarians are worrying about summer slide and its impact on all the learning students accomplished over the last school year. How can this be stopped?
What is summer slide? Summer slide is the loss of academic skills over summer vacation. A 2007 Johns Hopkins study tracked low-income students making reading progress during the school year revealed that gains made slipped away during the summer months due to unequal access to summer learning opportunities and access to reading materials. During the school year, students have books access through school and classroom libraries along with regular checks on reading progress by classroom teachers. Teachers spend much time with individual students, in both small and whole class settings, to hone in on teaching key skills that build up a child’s reading toolbox. These reading skills carry a student forward as they continue building lifelong reading habits throughout their school years and beyond.
Why should we worry about summer slide? One reason to worry is our need to close the achievement gap in education. Teachers and librarians need to ensure equal learning opportunities for all students regardless of economics. We know families of middle income students have access to learning opportunities and books, but what about our low income students? Many parents are working so making the trip to the local public library may not be a priority after a long day of work, or parents may not know the impact reading (or not reading) has on their children. This is where creative thinking has to happen! Creative thinking so that the students most in need are provided summer reading opportunities.
One thing librarians and teachers can consider is talking to students about the summer slide. We professionals talk amongst ourselves about reading loss, but shouldn’t we be telling students about this and the potential negative consequences not reading has on kids? Having conversations with students provides an opportunity for us to educate them and allows students to consider proactive steps to help themselves. Teachers and librarians take time the last two weeks of school to speak about the importance of reading, talking about possible books to read, and sharing books already read with other students.  Many of our teachers and librarians schedule Google Hang-Out sessions with other campuses in our district talking about books and sharing goals for summer reading. It’s a powerful way to bring students in and give them a voice in sharing with other students.
Another summer reading opportunity presented itself three years ago in our school district. Middle school librarians approached me about piloting a summer book checkout program. They wanted to allow students, with cleared library records, the opportunity to check out ten books over summer break. Our summer vacation lasts ten weeks, so students would have access to one book per week. The librarians partnered with Language Arts teachers to advertise and pass out permission forms that would be sent home with students for parent signatures. Once permission slips were returned, librarians created schedules for students to come in to select and check-out books during the last week of school. It was quite a hit and successful at middle school campuses, so the program was expanded the following year at elementary and high schools campuses.

Another thing we did as a school district is set up book donation sites at our summer feeding locations. While the primary goal was to feed students, we took this opportunity to read and distribute books to kids. The gently-used books we provided were donated by teachers, administrators, and businesses in our school district via a district-wide outreach for donations. We challenged teachers to donate during a two-day district staff development time and promoted the book drive through social media. Thus far, we’ve been able to collect 3000 gently used books though this one endeavor.You can check out the #sr4a hashtag on Twitter to read more about our efforts.   
We also set up book drop-off sites at every campus library for gently-used book donations. We promoted heavily through both school and district newsletters. We also partnered with our educational foundation to get additional donations. Through this effort, we collected thousands of books to distribute to students in our school district at the end of the school year.  The collected books are sent to campuses to send home with students the last week of school.

Together, we all recognize the impact books in the home can have, so providing books to students that may not have access just before summer break is a high priority for our school district.  It took partnerships to make this happen. Teachers, librarians, administrators, district personnel, our educational foundation, and community partnerships made these donations possible and we will continue these efforts again this year. We are fortunate to have well-stocked school libraries. but nothing good comes by having everything locked up over the summer when students have the time to read. We need to re-think book access for all students. I challenge you to consider ways to provide summer reading opportunities for your students.

Click here to view the permission slip example.

Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D., & Olson, L. (2007). Lasting consequences of the summer learning gap. American Sociological Review, 72, 167–180.

About Becky:

Becky Calzada is the District Library Coordinator in Leander ISD, a fast-growth school district just northwest of Austin, Texas and has been an educator for 28 years, the last 15 years of her career as a librarian in Texas. She is a co-moderator of #TXLCHAT and is currently the Texas Library Association-School Library Division Chair-Elect.
Twitter: @becalzada

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