Spreading the Joys of Reading through a Pandemic, Summer Break, and Beyond
by Jenna Maxman, NJLA Board Member
Most educators today will agree we face a daily battle for our students’ attention. Whether it is from Netflix, YouTube, TikTok, or any of the many other social media outlets, literacy teachers seem to feel this competition more acutely. Now add to it the incredible circumstances students have faced over the last 12 months, with school and public libraries closures due to Covid-19. Students’ lack of access to reading materials has, even more, fueled the “book deserts” we talk about at great lengths in literacy circles. There is always something that tears our student's attention away from reading. The most authentic leading indicator of student success in education is the ability to read on grade level. The struggle to engage students as readers is most obvious as we enter this phase of the year when students leave the “classroom”-virtual, hybrid, or in-person and begin to fall under the effects of the “Summer Slide”. The research is strong, clear, and consistent year after year.
Students can lose on average as much as three months of learning progress over the summer break.
The data doesn’t lie. Access and other socio-economic factors have time after time, proven to be the leading cause of student summer decline. According to a study done by Reading Rockets, children who live in wealthier communities have three times more access to children’s books compared to poor-income homes (Myraz & Rasinski, 2007). Therefore, while educators compete with various media outlets and fierce social influences, not to mention pandemic limitations, what is often missed or simply overlooked is the mere accessibility of resources to keep our kids reading during these tumultuous times.
As a literacy leader, I decided to take action! To tackle these various summer slide challenges, I recruited the assistance of my student-driven, after-school, community service club-EarlyAct, which is the elementary division of Rotary International. The club meets two times a month in a normal world and focuses on a different character trait each month. In the 2019 school year prior to the pandemic, my 45 first through sixth grade students in the EarlyAct Club decided to be “Literacy Leaders” and together began a campaign to bring free books to our community. The club members rallied behind the idea of having free books available to community members of all ages year-round! We teamed up with the non-profit organization “Little Free Library." This foundation allows for children and adults of all ages to take part in a local book exchange. By taking and sharing their favorite pieces of literature, community members increase their access to books 24/7 with no fees or charges. By associating ourselves with this world-renowned