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Libraries Help Reduce Summer Slide

New Program Kept Some School Libraries Open

Kalamazoo Public Schools tackled the challenge of bolstering student summertime reading with a simple idea: give children more access to books.

The district opened the libraries in five elementary schools to provide children with more access to books and access to a larger variety of books.

The summer library program was piloted once a week at Arcadia Elementary School, Lincoln International Studies School, Washington Writers’ Academy, Edison Environmental Science Academy, and Woodward School for Technology and Research. All KPS elementary school children were able to visit the libraries between June 19 and Aug. 17.

“This is to beat back summer slide,” KPS Superintendent Michael Rice said. “One of the things we learned at a Reading Now Network symposium is that much of the gap in reading between middle-class and working-class poor children is associated with what happens in the summer.

“Middle-class kids are more likely to continue reading and experience flat to increasing reading levels. Poor kids who are not reading experience flat to declining reading levels. The gap widens as the effects of those summers continue.”

Angela Justice, district coordinator of English language arts, social studies and library services, said children were allowed to check out up to two books a week.

“We recognized that some students may not have an active library card for some reason,” Justice said. “This pilot provided a way for them to keep up with their reading.”

She said staff heard from some students that they liked having the libraries open, because it gave kids some place different to go during the summer.

Justice said 797 students checked out 1,477 books.

The program was staffed by four district librarians, who rotated among the different sites. Literacy coaches also visited the sites to hold story times for the children.

Justice said the sites with the highest participation rates were those that had other programs either in the school buildings or nearby. For example, the YMCA ran a summer program in Lincoln; Arcadia was home to the Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo summer program; and Edison is next door to the Boys & Girls Club of Kalamazoo, which has extensive summer programming.

“We’re definitely interested in more opportunities to connect with other summer programs,” she said. “And we want to make sure we advertise a little earlier to help people understand that we’re open and that we want parents to participate.”

The library program supplemented other district literacy efforts held over the summer.

The district expanded its summer books program, which was piloted in 2008. This year the program gave eight books to each child entering third through sixth grade in the fall. An estimated 4,000 children received books, which included seven books that they selected and one book that is the grade-level read for the year. The books were a mix of fiction and nonfiction and were mailed to the children’s homes about once every 10 days.

“What we hope to see is more engaged kids who are reading to a greater extent, reading not only these books but reading at the Kalamazoo Public Library as well,” Rice said. “We’re priming the pump. We don’t expect this to be the end-all and be-all of reading. We expect this to be the beginning.

“We want to get them to get excited about a few books and start going out into the wider world of books.”

As the children read the books, they are asked to mail in a postcard with their thoughts on the books. Teachers respond to the postcards with words of encouragement.

The district also cosponsored a reading conference. “Mirrors of Me: Children Seeing Themselves in Their Literature,” was held Aug. 1 at the Western Michigan University Bernhard Center. The event looked at the role of multicultural literature in the development of grade-level reading skills.

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