Paying it Forward: Northview Summer Reading by Karen Aupperlee and Julia Reynolds
Books are everywhere in the Northview Public Schools. Classroom shelves are filled with books. There are books in students’ hands and books in bags and backpacks. Our efforts to get students reading – books that they choose – have grown stronger over the last 8-10 years. Thankfully, with funding for classroom libraries, fabulous instruction from amazing teachers and literacy specialists, and support from administrators and consultants (Doug Fisher, Richard Allington, Cris Tovani, Chris Lehman, Penny Kittle, Kristi Mraz, and others), our students are readers.
While we can do so much during the school year, we are also aware of the need to continue to focus on reading during the summer months. It is well known that students get behind if they do not continue their reading efforts while they are not in school. Plus, books are invaluable to build knowledge for students who may not have as many outside and summer experiences as other classmates.
Our work to get students reading in the summer began over 7 years ago. We started with a book drive, where community members dropped off books at the schools. Then, with tubs of books, families signed up to participate in the summer reading program. Books were sent home at the end of the school year for students to read during the summer. After one year, we added a few “events” during the summer, spreading bed sheets on the lawn of the middle school and laying out books for families to pick. Popsicles, bouncy houses, and face painting were additional activities happening during the book shopping. Of course, we noticed that the families taking advantage of our events were also the families who were going to the library, going to the beach, and having amazing summers with rich experiences.
We decided to ramp up the summer reading efforts.
For kindergarten students, we created a mailing process. Every week during the summer, 12 weeks total, a paper book is mailed to the house of each kindergartener. The books are chosen based on the reading level of the child at the end of the year, and the levels grow in complexity over the weeks. This huge effort has been amazing as parents tell us about children waiting for the mail each week and rereading the weekly book several times.
Also, our superintendent participated in a book drive in Ethiopia, where books were donated to a cart driven by donkey around impoverished villages. Children would come for miles to get a book to take home. This idea inspired one of our principals to pursue the idea of a mobile library in our community. So, now the summer book tubs are loaded onto a truck and during the summer months, the mobile library truck goes around to neighborhoods to deliver books to families.
Children clap and cheer when they see the mobile library arriving. Last summer, over 300 children and adults climbed the stairs into our mobile library truck and selected and exchanged books to read. The mobile library makes three visits (June, July, August) to six different neighborhoods. Children climb out of neighborhood pools to get books, families drive to one of the stops, and the excitement about books and reading is amazing.
We are excited and proud of our year-round efforts to support students and reading. It is important to continue our relentless pursuit of helping every student be a strong, lifelong reader. It is worth every penny and every minute that we spend working towards this goal.
Karen Aupperlee (@karenaupperlee) is the literacy specialist at East Oakview Elementary School in Northview Public Schools, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Being able to work with amazing students, teachers, and administrators to build a community of readers has been and continues to be a very rewarding challenge.
Julia Reynolds (@jmrliteracy) is Director of Curriculum and School Improvement in Northview Public Schools and Associate Professor of Education (Literacy Studies) at Aquinas College, both in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is a past president of both the Michigan Council of Teachers of English (MCTE) and Michigan Reading Association (MRA).