Reading program helps stave off the 'summer slide'

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When children leave school for the summer, research shows that many lose a significant percentage of the knowledge and skills they developed during the school year. It varies from child to child, but some studies show that children can lose as much as half of the academic gains they’ve made. Some educators refer to it as the "summer brain drain."

When these children, particularly urban school children, return to school, they may have been promoted to the next grade. But academically, they’ve fallen behind and will need remedial help to catch up. Imagine what this does cumulatively over a period of years.

Elaine Spaull.

Summer reading is particularly critical for children transitioning from third grade to fourth grade because children are supposed to have learned to read by then, and they’ll need to read to learn from that point on. If they can’t read to grade-level proficiency by third grade, their chances of graduating on time are greatly diminished.

To address this problem, more than 1,500 students in 13 city schools will receive six free books this summer. The summer reading program, which is in its seventh year, is coordinated by the Center for Youth in Rochester. Age- and reading-level appropriate books are mailed directly to the children. The program is designed to complement city schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s ROCRead program, which encourages children to develop their reading skills by reading during breaks.

According to the program’s directors, Patty Yarmel and Leslie Schwartz, 75 percent of the children said their reading ability improved as a result of the program, and 68 percent of parents saw improvement. Their pre- and post- program surveys found that the majority of children did not experience a summer slide in their reading ability, and the books were often shared with siblings.

While the program is funded by M&T Bank and an anonymous donor, City Council member Elaine Spaull, who is also director of the Center for Youth, should be commended, too. Many Rochester-area politicians lament the city school district’s low graduation rate, but do relatively little to help. Spaull has fought hard to keep this program alive during a time of severe budget constraints.

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