How do you provide a child with a round-trip ticket to anywhere in the world—from the highest of mountaintops to the depths of the ocean? Reading offers students not only unlimited travel, but boundless knowledge and exploration that allows a growing mind to thrive. Reading during the summer vacation is especially important for young readers, so this year we’re launching a Summer Slide Literacy Project in partnership with the Friends of the Library, a non-profit supporting Berkeley’s public libraries. The Summer Slide project will gift all students who are reading below grade level in first and second grade with 10 books at the beginning of summer to take home and keep as their own.
The achievement/opportunity gap in the Berkeley Unified School District is profound and persistent, starting in kindergarten and increasing each school year. Nationally, reading proficiency at third grade is the most predictive determinant of future academic and life success for students and therefore the most important measurement to focus on to address the achievement gap.
Berkeley’s elementary educators have been committed to closing the gap through engaging lessons and ensuring that interesting and accessible books are available in the classroom and school libraries to allow students to grow as readers. However, the biggest obstacle to that growth is the summer vacation break, when for many students their reading life is put on hold.
In his powerful book, Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap, researcher Richard Allington shows how summer break contributes greatly to the achievement gap between children from low and middle-income families. A student’s socioeconomic background is less of a determining factor during the school year than in the summer when children from low-income families are more likely to lose ground. The compounding effects of summer reading loss over the course of elementary school can result in a 2-year gap in reading achievement by the time a child arrives in middle school.
We believe that every child should have access and be able to fulfill their interest in reading and learning year-round. Following Allington’s research that the best way to address summer reading loss is by giving children their own choice from a selection of current, not used, high-interest books at the student’s reading level, the Summer Slide Project provides students with the opportunity to “shop” for 10 books of their own.
It begins with teachers and literacy coaches at each school site identifying first and second grade students who are reading below grade level and are economically disadvantaged, or have slipped in reading levels in prior summers. Then, during the last two weeks of school, highly engaging books from a variety of genres are purchased at each reading level and students choose 10 books at their independent reading level to keep as their own. “It is incredible to witness the excitement on book shopping day,” explains Joal Arvanigian, District literacy coach, “the students love that they get to choose the books and that they get to keep them!”
Each site also holds an evening event for the target students and their families. Dinner is served, childcare provided, and parents/guardians are educated about the importance of reading during the summer to increase the impact of the Summer Slide Literacy Project. For the project to be a success, it is imperative that parents are involved and talk to their student about the books they’re reading, read aloud to their children, and have their children see them reading as well.
The involvement of the public libraries makes the impact of this project even greater. In addition to receiving free books at the beginning of the summer, each student will receive a library card and will visit their neighborhood library. Ensuring that families gain library access provides them with a lifetime of reading opportunities.
Under the 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children and Youth, the BUSD’s BEARS program and city summer programs, with support from UC Berkeley’s Summer BUILD program, are also working on summer literacy efforts. The BEARS program includes a month-long academic focus in July. Teachers structure academic learning and literacy activities, and BUILD mentors from UC Berkeley are available to provide one-to-one reading support. Summer BUILD mentors also provide reading support at the City of Berkeley’s Summer Fun Camps (at James Kenney, Frances Albrier, Live Oak, and Young Adult Project) and the City’s Playgrounds program. The Berkeley Public Library’s Book Bike program will bring books to Playgrounds sites that do not have access to a library, and the libraries also host a summer reading program, with prizes to motivate all youth to keep reading.
With support from families, teachers, public libraries and community members, we’re able to give students the opportunities they need to jumpstart their summer and future!