Viewpoint

Summer slide only at the park

Summer reading is a key way to keep kids from falling behind.
Summer reading is a key way to keep kids from falling behind. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

It’s summer, and for many students in Mecklenburg County, that means a brief respite from the rigors of homework, classwork, extracurricular activities and testing. But for a small group of planners at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the time to dream big is upon us.

A few years ago, the Library and CMS came together under the idea that a public library and a public school system could create something together that neither could do by itself. As we looked at other communities around the country, there was no template, no perfect model – so we had to start building something ourselves. A good place to start was with the summer.

The summer is arguably the most critical time of the academic year, because it presents the most risk. So the Library and CMS took aim at “the summer slide,” a time when students without access to summer learning opportunities fall behind their peers, creating an achievement gap that’s hard to close. We’ve ambitiously grown our summer reading program each year, working closely together to align the program with academic needs and to allow pre-registration so that teachers and Library staff can get kids signed up before schools get out.

As a result, last summer 29,105 individuals participated in the Library’s Summer Reading program, a 20 percent increase from the previous year; and those participants logged 26 million minutes of reading. But more importantly, about 65 percent of the 19,051 children and teen participants were CMS students.

While those numbers were exciting, we wanted to see if there was a more direct link between summer reading and academic achievement. In September, the CMS Accountability Office provided a small data sample that showed 76 percent of third, fourth, and fifth graders who completed the Library’s 2013 Summer Reading program scored 4 or better on the 2014 End of Grade Tests (EOG), denoting a “Solid” or “Superior” command of knowledge and skills. Compared with the district as a whole, where only 44 percent of non-Summer Reading participants scored 4 or better on the EOG, the data were promising.

What do these numbers mean for us as a community? They mean that we have an opportunity to close the achievement gap created by the summer slide. Free summer learning opportunities abound, if we can only expand access and awareness. Today, June 19, is National Summer Learning Day, an opportunity to come together as a community to get every child involved in summer learning. The Library and CMS invite you to join us in dreaming big: not just for this summer, but for that future summer in the not-so-distant future when we will have closed the achievement gap and ended the summer slide in Mecklenburg County.

Lee Keesler is CEO of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. Ann Clark is superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Library Summer Reading runs June 15 – August 15. In addition to the program itself, there are more than 2,500 free programs at 20 libraries around the county. To register, go to www.cmlibrary.org/summerread or visit a library branch.

CMS’ Summer Learning Blitz allows students to enrich math skills, expand reading levels and explore new places using free digital tools. To access these tools, go to j.mp/summerlearningblitz. This site will be live June 15 – August 14. Don’t have a home computer? Visit a library branch.

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