Library system's initiative helps keep South-Western City Schools students' reading skill sharp

While students in the South-Western City School District may have closed their school books for the summer, district and library representatives urge parents to encourage them to keep reading.

"The summer slide is real," said Brad Faust, South-Western's assistant superintendent.

"There's no doubt that students who don't read during the summer regress in their literacy skills," he said. "All the studies show it, and we see it in our classrooms.

"You get to the summer months and a lot of children are out playing and their attitude is 'I don't want to do it -- I don't want to read,' " Faust said.

"That's the challenge for parents and libraries, how to make it seem like reading is fun -- not only fun, but something kids will want to do as part of their regular summer activities," he said.

Why reading matters

A lack of reading during the summer negatively affects students when they return to school in the fall, Faust said.

There is the matter of the "catching up" they have to do, he said. Students who don't read during summer will regress from where their reading skills were at the end of the previous school year, he said.

Then there is the fact that as students move up a grade, so does the level of reading in class, he said.

"If you move from third to fourth grade, for example, the text becomes a bit more complicated and it can be even more of a struggle for some students if they haven't been reading during the summer," Faust said.

The brain is like a muscle in that it will get weaker if it's not being used, he said.

"Reading skills are the foundation to all learning at all grade levels," Faust said. "It doesn't matter whether it's math, science or any subject, reading is a part of it."

Several studies have demonstrated the importance of summer reading, said Lore Lehr, youth services librarian at the Grove City Library, a part of Southwest Public Libraries.

A 2010 report reviewed the results of a study conducted by the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University evaluated a total of 357 students who were entering fourth grade, according to an American Library Association website link. The study included 11 U.S. sites involving school and public library partners.

In the spring of 2008, students at participating sites took a pre-test for reading and were given summer reading logs developed for the study, to be used during their subsequent participation in the public-library reading programs.

In the fall, the participating students were tested again and surveys of students, parents, teachers and library staff also were conducted. Library staffers also were interviewed.

The test results showed that students who participated in a public library's summer reading program did not experience a loss in reading skills when classes resumed.

The teachers reported that students who participated started the school year ready to learn, had improved reading achievement and had more confidence, motivation and enjoyment in reading.

The students' parents also indicated their children were better prepared as they began the school year.

It's not important what students read during the summer, just that they do read, Lehr said.

"Summer reading shouldn't be a chore," she said. "Kids should be encouraged to read about the topics they're interested in, whether that's superheroes, sports or a subject they studied in school.

Ways to help students

Parents can serve as role models by also reading, Faust said.

"Children pick up on what their parents are doing," he said. "If they see that you're spending time reading, they'll likely to do it, too."

Parents also can encourage their children by asking them about what they've been reading.

"You can make it a topic of conversation around the dinner table," he said. "When you ask about how their day went, ask about what they've been reading."

Library summer reading clubs are especially beneficial for students, Faust said.

In Southwest Public Libraries' summer reading club, students accumulate points based on the amount of time they spend reading, being read to or listening to an audio book, Lehr said.

Once they reach a threshold of points, the students can receive a prize or be entered in a raffle for grand prizes that will be held at the end of the summer break, she said.

Students also can earn points by attending programs the Grove City and Westland branches host throughout the summer. The libraries host special guests such as the Turtle Lady, Dr. Insecta Bug and representatives from the Columbus Museum of Art.

Southwest Public Libraries offers reading resources on its website, swpl.org, and at the two branches, including suggested reading lists for various topics and age levels, Lehr said.

Summer reading clubs are open to teens and adults, and the library also offers a program for babies and their parents, she said.

In 2017, the library had more than 3,300 participants in its summer reading programs, including 1,684 children, 665 teens, 612 babies and 362 adults, she said.

"At any age, it's important to keep reading during the summer," Lehr said.

District initiatives

South-Western will be using a grant beginning this fall to help develop programs to improve literacy at the high school level.

"We'll be specifically addressing issues faced by our English as a Second Language students and special education students," Faust said.

The district received a $199,639 Ohio's Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Grant from the Ohio Department of Education.

In May, the state awarded more than $33 million in grants to 46 school districts and consortiums of districts. Funds for the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Grant are provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

"The Striving Readers grant program is a way to lift reading achievement and literacy outcomes for students at all age levels, from birth all the way through grade 12," said Melissa Weber-Mayrer, early literacy administrator for the ODE.

The three-year grant focuses on addressing needs of students who face certain hurdles in literacy, including students living in poverty, students with disabilities, English learners and students identified as having reading difficulties, she said.

"We distribute the money directly to the local schools or consortiums so they can use the funds in a way that best meets the needs of the students they are serving," Weber-Mayrer said.

The grant is designed to fund programs addressing specific age and grade bands -- birth to age 5, kindergarten through fifth grade, middle school and high school, she said.

"We had applications that came in, some addressing one level and some that will use their grant to address some or all of the student groups," Weber-Mayrer said.

The ODE awarded the grants through a competitive peer-review process, she said.

A total of 110 applications requesting more than $92 million were received. The federal grant requirements mandated a distribution of funding across the age and grade bands, with 15 percent going to birth to age 5 programs, 40 percent to kindergarten through grade 5 and 40 percent equally distributed across middle and high school programs.

In addition to South-Western, other Franklin County grant recipients were:

* Columbus City Schools, nearly $1.2 million to address birth through age 5 and kindergarten through grade 5 students.

* ESC of Central Ohio, representing a consortium of 15 districts and schools, $643,676, for birth through age 5 and middle and high school students.

* Ohio State Research Foundation, a $1.1 million grant to assist birth through age 5 students in several central Ohio counties.

* Reynoldsburg City Schools, $1.1 million to address students from kindergarten through high school.

Ohio's plan for improving literacy centers on the importance of developing reading skills in all age groups and schools, Weber-Mayrer said.

South-Western chose to focus on high school students "because we don't have as many resources at the high school level and we think this grant money will help us hone our efforts to improve literacy at our high schools," Faust said.

"We also know we have ESL students who come in to our district in high school and it's tougher to at an older age to gain reading skills in a language that's different from your native language," he said.

The district is still determining the scope of the program it will begin offering when classes resume, using the grant money, Faust said.

The program will serve students at all four high schools, he said.

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