It’s never too early to plan a summer reading initiative
The learning loss that occurs during the long summer break is so well known among educators that most districts have some kind of summer literacy initiative to combat the dreaded “summer slide.” But how can you make sure that when summer hits, your program is ready to go and fully funded, and that everyone, from partners to students and their parents, are ready to play their part? The key is starting early—very early—and looking for both funding and partners from the very beginning of planning.
The early bird gets the funding
The biggest step you can take to ensure your summer reading initiative is a success is to start in spring. No, not the spring before your summer reading program starts, but the spring more than a full year ahead of your initiative. As you establish budgets for the upcoming school year in May and June, funding for any summer projects at the end of that upcoming academic year need to be included so you’re not scrambling to find cash after all the money’s spoken for.
Fortunately, spring is also the time of year when title funds become available, and applications for title funds and other state and federal funding are generally due by October 1. That gives schools and districts a little more breathing room, but if you begin in the spring you can combine general funds and others to give yourself some more flexibility.
Building partnerships in your building (and beyond)
Funding should be a team sport, and literacy practitioners—from reading specialists and librarians to classroom teachers or administrators with a special interest in literacy—can be an important part of the team. Get them looking into various options as early as possible. They are the content experts who can help the folks in the central office understand what appropriate programming looks like and what specific pieces a literacy program should have.
Another way to expand your knowledge base is to start a task force of literacy experts in your school or district and ask them for program suggestions to be submitted by a deadline early enough to consider as budget planning begins in the spring.
Getting the community involved is often a great way to fund summer reading initiatives in full or in part as well. There are a number of organizations that have literacy as a top focus for philanthropic efforts, such as community foundations, Kiwanis clubs, or even local businesses.
A common stumbling block with these kinds of partnerships is that their deadlines for grants and other funding requests are all over the calendar. You need to make sure you don’t miss those windows, but it’s also incredibly helpful to know what funding you’ve secured when you get to crunch time on your own budget planning.
Not all potential community partners have funding applications and deadlines, however. I recently talked with someone whose husband owns three barbershops in their community and was looking for schools to donate books to his shops so that kids could take them home and then exchange them at the end of the month.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to all kinds of community members to get involved. You’ll never know what kind of help they’re willing or even eager to provide if you don’t ask.
The power of parents
When it comes to encouraging kids to read, your most powerful community partners are your students’ parents and family members. Get them involved by giving them straightforward ways to engage their kids about what they’re reading. At Kids Read Now, we do this by providing a “discovery sheet” sticker in every book that goes to students as part of our summer reading program. It provides simple questions parents can ask without even reading the book.
Sometimes parents may feel they aren’t in a great position to support their student’s literacy because they didn’t experience academic success as students, or simply because they don’t know where to start. The important bit is prompting them to engage with their kids about books to show them that reading is important to their families.
Building on that, schools can also provide a platform where parents can engage. This could be a texting platform like the one we offer, or a Facebook or other online group. By connecting school and home all year long, these communities of readers are your best defense against the summer slide.
Glen Miller, a former educator of 25 years, is the legislative outreach director for Kids Read Now, a nonprofit organization that offers a turnkey summer reading program. He can be reached at [email protected]