Describe your view on the importance of literacy/reading ability for children.

Literacy is freedom’s gatekeeper. We know that the more literate an individual, the more capable he is of reaching his educational and career aspirations (Fisher and Frey, Corwin Connect, April, 2017).

Literacy is the great equalizer when students from diverse backgrounds come together. Helping our students to grow as readers and lovers of books, we are giving them opportunities to explore the world in a way that they might not have imagined. Literacy is the gateway to success as a person and a citizen. Inspired by Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap by Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen where they discussed the benefits of providing books to students, we began the Slackwood Summer Reading Initiative with a grant from LTEF (Lawrence Township Education Foundation), funds from our PTO and Title I resources.

How many students receive the 12 books? Have you chosen the books yet for this summer? If so, what are they?

Approximately 210-220 students each year get to pick 12 books. The 3rd grade students (approx. 75) who are leaving our school and going to 4th grade at our intermediate school get to pick 3 chapter books to take with them.

Books are ordered in the spring. Our teachers consistently select a wide variety of incredible books based on interest inventories and teacher and student feedback. Each student gets to pick from a wide assortment of books: popular series, favorite authors and illustrators, high-interest nonfiction, graphic novels, beloved characters, fairy tales and much more.

What advantages have you seen with your students?

Our Summer Reading Initiative creates excitement about reading and books and solidifies students’ identities as a reader. Students can’t wait to get their books, share their choices with friends and family and take them home.

Our data shows fewer students have suffered the effects of the “summer slide” as a result of the access to self-selected books. It encourages them to create, or add to, a home library.

Research shows that students who come from low income homes have a greater chance of losing ground during the summer, mainly because their access to books is not the same as those of student from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. They also are less exposed to rich vocabulary that provides background knowledge and aids in comprehension and overall reading ability. Slackwood is a Title One school that serves a diverse population of students. By providing books that our students can call their own, we have been able to lessen the “Summer Slide.”

What’s been the best part about this?

Seeing the students’ faces when they walk in the room and hearing their discussions about the books is priceless.  They are like kids in a candy store! Each year the students’ home libraries expand. For so many of them, this is their only chance to create a home library. It reinforces the idea that WE ARE READERS ALL OF THE TIME! The students come back from summer vacation excited to talk about the books they selected and enjoyed! They share reviews and get their peers excited about some new books!

Would you recommend this to any classroom/school, and, if so, why?

Some of the most established minds in reading research know that giving students’ choice and access to high interest books are the three biggest factors in creating lifelong readers. This initiative guarantees that every student has access to books over the summer. Choice is the greatest factor in ensuring that students are self-motivated and will keep reading throughout the summer. We have seen students hold fast to the gains that they have made throughout the year in their reading ability and how this increases overall confidence and good feelings about reading. We would wholeheartedly recommend this initiative to any school or classroom.

Anything else you would like to add?

At Slackwood we are committed to building a culture of literacy. We celebrate reading every day. All that we do supports a greater literacy initiative: family literacy nights, birthday books, author visits, book fairs, pop-up libraries and much more. Our students LOVE to read and to be read to! By continuing our Summer Reading Initiative we ensure the future success of Slackwood students.