September 8th is International Literacy Day, a date supported by the United Nations Educational, Societal, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) with a global aim “to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities, and societies.”
Their efforts at UNESCO are paying off. Worldwide, steady progress has been made in literacy with the increase in the adult literacy rate (15+ years) from 81% in 2000 to 86% in 2016.
Locally, here in West Haven, Connecticut, a small city along the coast of Connecticut, we are engaging in our own efforts to improving literacy. Here, we are fortunate to have Read to Grow, an organization that has donated over 1.7 million books to families, child-care providers, teachers, doctors, health-care groups, library programs.
Our school system has directly benefitted from the generosity of Read to Grow whose mission statement is
Every family — regardless of income and primary language — will understand the critical importance of early childhood literacy and will take an active role in their child’s reading development. All children in Connecticut will have books of their own.
This past June, Read to Grow was an essential collaborator to our summer reading program organized at one Title 1 school, Forest Elementary School by the school’s reading consultant, Heather Mazzone. We have sought to prevent a loss of reading skills during the summer months, a loss commonly known as the “summer slide.” We had discussed different ways to engage students during the summer. We found our inspiration in a study completed by faculty members Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their research led them to conclude that academic loss can be made worse because of a lack of reading materials at home; no books in a home meant lost opportunities to read.
According to Allington:
“What we know is that children who do not read in the summer lose two to three months of reading development while kids who do read tend to gain a month of reading proficiency. This creates a three to four month gap every year. Every two or three years the kids who don’t read in the summer fall a year behind the kids who do.”
In designing their three-year study, Allington and McGill-Franzen gave students books for the summer. In one test group, they allowed students to choose their books, explaining that “research has demonstrated that choice makes a very important contribution to achievement.” For this test group, the study found that summer reading is just as effective, if not more so, as summer school.
We were convinced.
We wanted to try….but, we needed books.
That’s where Connecticut’s Read to Grow stepped in to help. With our collaboration with Read to Grow through the Books for Kids Co-Coordinator, Linda Sylvester, we were able to obtain over 4,300 books for students in Pre-K through fourth grade. There were boxes and boxes of new and gently used books, collected through donations and book drives.
Forest School literacy aides then organized the sets of books into different grade levels. In late June, just before the start of summer vacation, each Forest student had the opportunity to select two books from a wide assortment of texts. In addition to these two books, each student also received a “Mystery Bag” that contained eight (8) additional books. That meant each student left school with 10 books to keep and read over the summer!
In addition, inside each mystery bag was a notebook, a “Forest School Summer Writing Journal 2018,” for students to jot down any thoughts they wanted to share, questions that they had while reading, or any connections they wanted to make. Students were told that those who turned in their the “Forest School Summer Writing Journal 2018” at the beginning of the new school year would receive another free book.
Finally, parents received a note in the bag explaining how reading can stop the academic summer slide and how to encourage their child to practice reading.
Forest Elementary is not the only West Haven School to benefit from Read to Grow. This organization has helped the all of the schools in the West Haven Public School system, K-12. For example, this past week, I was able to select 309 books to add to the independent reading book closet at the high school for students to choose and take home to read.
According to its website, the Books for Kids program distributes over 145,000 books annually. Since it began, Books for Kids has delivered more than 1.2 million new and gently used books.
Like the international efforts of UNESCO to improve literacy, Read to Grow works locally to improve literacy. Both organizations recognize the importance of starting literacy at an early age to create life-long readers. Both organizations also recognize the importance of literacy to local and national economies. Multiple studies have already shown a correlation between more education and higher earnings, and between higher educational scores and higher earnings. Literacy has a pay off…literally!
Now that we are back to school, we look forward to reading what students thought about the 10 books they read.
We are hopeful that the 10 books they read over the summer have helped to improve literacy.
And, we are fortunate that we have a partnership with Read to Grow and their Books for Kids program that helps us to slow the summer slide…10 books at a time.
Read to Grow
53 School Ground Road
Branford, CT 06405