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. In the Summer of 2018, the Schools Fund and the Friends of the Library launched the Summer Slide Literacy Project to target third grade literacy in an effort to help close the achievement/opportunity gap in Berkeley. The Summer Slide Literacy Project will be a new, annual Community Partnership Grant for the Schools Fund, similar to the partnerships it has with the Berkeley Rep and the Berkeley Symphony to provide educational programming in the Berkeley public schools.

Berkeley’s elementary educators are 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 book, Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap, researcher Richard Allington shows how the summer break contributes greatly to the achievement gap between children from low and middle-income families. Children from different socioeconomic backgrounds can make the same amount of reading progress during the school year, but children from low-income families are likely to lose ground over the summer. 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.

Allington’s research found that the best way to address summer reading loss is by giving children a selection of current, not used, high-interest books at the student’s reading level that are theirs to keep. Choice in book selection is key to ensuring the books are read regularly. Allington shows that sending students home with new, self-chosen books at the end of the school year is effective in preventing summer reading loss.

Implementation Plan for Berkeley Summer Slide Project
Teachers and literacy coaches will identify first-grade and second grade students who are reading below grade level and are economically disadvantaged, or have slipped in reading levels in prior summers. Highly engaging books from a variety of genres will be purchased at each reading level and children will get the chance to “shop” for books that are most exciting to them. Each student will be able to choose 10 books at their independent reading level to keep as their own. The students are invited to a designated location on campus, and choose books during the last two weeks of school.

Each site will also hold an evening event that is only for the target student and their families. A meal is served, childcare is provided, and parents/guardians are educated about the importance of reading during the summer and the risk of “summer slide”. Teachers will also discuss with parents the importance of talking to their student about the books they’re reading, reading books in front of their student, and the incredible value of reading aloud to children. When these event have been held on a small scale, school by school, the attendance rate has been around 80% (even when competing with Warriors playoff games!).

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, school literacy coaches accompany students to their neighborhood public library to take a tour and learn how to check out books. This partnership between the Berkeley Public Schools Fund and the Friends of the Library, families, teachers and the public libraries will be a powerful partnership for addressing the achievement gap.

In addition, the Berkeley Public Schools Fund is coordinating with the 2020 Vision’s Third Grade Work Group to communicate other community-wide summer reading efforts. BUSD’s BEARS program will include a month-long academic focus during the month of July. Teachers will structure academic learning and literacy activities, and BUILD mentors from UC Berkeley will be available to provide one-to-one reading support. Summer BUILD mentors will 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 BPL is also hosting its summer reading program, with prizes to motivate all youth to keep reading.