I am an elementary school librarian in an urban setting in Massachusetts. Through the work of creating a more representative and inclusive library collection for my students, I learned a lot about the politics of the publishing industry, the accepted institutional racism and purposeful exclusion of communities in books and that we should be outraged at the continued disenfranchisement of our children.
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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Summer Slide, Not the Kind at the Playground

Summer evokes fun and relaxation for some students, but it can be an extremely critical and anxious time for many others. This is the time of year you may hear a lot about "summer slide".  When we give serious issues alliterative titles, I think it devalues the seriousness of what it actually means. It sounds like educational jargon but it's not.  Summer Slide is very much an issue of social justice because it most greatly effects students of a low socioeconomic bracket with little funding to look more closely at the issue.

When children do not read over the summer, they can loose months of reading growth gained during the previous 9 months and over a student's educational career this becomes compounded into years of loss.  "We" blame parents, "we" blame teachers, "we" blame the students themselves for their lack of skill and motivation, but in a recent article by Richard L. Allington, Ph.D., and Anne McGill-Franzen, Ph.D. they examine what is the root cause of this destructive phenomenon. They answer the question, 

"Why is there this family economic trigger that creates summer reading loss, and is there a way to neutralize that trigger and end the summer reading loss that kids in low-income families experience?" 

The article goes on to say that owning books, or lack there of, is one of the factors that greatly contributes to this losing of ground. I think when some people hear this, they immediately scream, "Go to the library!" and yes, go to the library. But in many neighborhoods there are no branches or there is no grownup to take the kids or there are fines to be paid or English is not the first language or there is a distrust of organizations that take your information or families may not be "legal" residents...it goes on. Beyond the barriers of library use, there is plenty of information, both academic and anecdotal, that *owning* books greatly effects student achievement.

Choice is another factor, not so much touched upon by the first article, but I have seen the effects and much has been written of choosing one's own book as opposed to being assigned books. Now, this is where it gets tricky for me. As a school librarian I have a foot in two worlds, library and teacher. Even so, I shudder at leveled readers and the overly didactic use of books (though I do appreciate the necessity in some cases). My own child complains that he always has to write about what he reads when he just wants to read. Choice is also a matter of social justice. There is room for books to have the dual roles of learning and pleasure for some, BUT when choice is often part of some students' educations (library use, access to school library, purchasing books at book stores) and not others' (see above paragraphs), you loose motivation, again leaving children with a lower SES status behind and bolstering skills of wealthier students in wealthier districts. 

I urge you, dear reader, to find resources in your community that supply NEW FREE books (donations are a slippery slope with many implications no matter how kindhearted the gesture) and get them to children. The Rotary Club loves to give money toward literacy causes through grants. Nationally, see if you can utilize Reading Is Fundamental. It is out there, let's organize for our children!

Awesome kids reading their awesome new books they chose from the Cambridge Book Bike!

In my community, I am an organizer of the Cambridge Book Bike, which gives NEW FREE books away all summer. Contact me if you want to start something similar, I will help with any tips I have. 

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