I can still remember the packets elementary teachers handed out to us on the last day of school. Along with our report card, we were each given a long list of books, separated by grade level with a cover page: “Suggested Summer Reading.” Although other kids usually threw theirs into the garbage, or onto the floor of the bus, or simply left them in their desks for the janitors to clean out, I would take the list, circle the titles that sounded good, and beg my mom to take me to the library to check out as many as possible.
In middle school, the suggested summer reading list shrunk, but attached was a letter explaining that anyone who read over the summer and completed a five-paragraph book report would earn extra credit on their English grade. But in high school, there was no longer the word “suggested” before summer reading. Each grade was given a choice of two or three books along with the warning that there would be a test given the first week of school. The books were usually boring, but I always got through them (although I will always remember struggling through both the text and the test of Robert Peck’s A Day No Pigs Would Die).
Currently, there are thousands of students out there who don’t have structured summer reading programs of any kind. During vacations, many students fall into what is known as the “summer slide”; without schools, many students lose access to books and therefore go at least two months without using their reading, writing, and comprehension skills. Although it’s common for students to snap back into the routine once the new school year begins, research shows that much of the reading achievement gap in high school results from unbalanced access to opportunities for summer learning.
With recent budget cuts to libraries and summer school programs, it’s difficult to find ways to keep kids learning when school isn’t in session. Public libraries often have excellent summer reading programs that include reading discussion groups, storytelling, music, performances, and other creative ways to get kids thinking during the summer. As a native New Yorker, I’m familiar with Summer Reading at New York Libraries, which is a program that brought over one million children and teens to libraries in 2008 and 2009. Programs like this, ones that instill a love of reading and learning in children that doesn’t disappear once the calendar flips to June, are becoming more and more important. Instituting structured year-round learning, even if it isn’t in schools, is necessary for ensuring that all kids grow up to have bright futures.