Heights Libraries' summer reading program seeks to counter drop in reading scores

Leah Lerman won the 2021 preschool summer reading grand prize, a Lakeshore Learning gift card. [courtesy Heights Libraries]

Parents with children in public and private schools alike have spent the past two years worried about the same thing: What is COVID and all its restrictions doing to my child’s education? Parents, teachers and school personnel struggled with two seemingly oppositional, yet undeniable, realities: Most kids learn better in school, and schools need to keep kids and personnel safe from COVID by switching to online learning, masking and social distancing.

Despite heroic efforts by parents, teachers and schools, the isolation and chaos of COVID took a toll. According to a study by the Brookings Institution, published in March, reading test scores for children in grades 3–8 dropped significantly between fall 2019, before the pandemic, and fall 2021, one year into the pandemic. Additionally, reading test-score gaps between low- and high-poverty elementary schools widened during the pandemic.

Few are surprised by these realities; in fact, the American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law in March 2021, allocates “$122 billion . . . to State educational agencies and school districts to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Nation’s students,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“While public libraries aren’t schools, we take our mission to support and encourage literacy very seriously,” said Sam Lapides, youth services manager at Heights Libraries. “It hopefully goes without saying that we offer free and open access to reading materials for every age and ability, but lately the need to encourage kids to read feels more urgent, which is why we are really eager to get kids signed up for our annual summer reading program this year.”

This year’s summer reading theme reflects that focus, with an emphasis on learning and growth, both intellectually and in the garden. Preschoolers through fifth-graders will be “Growing to New Heights,” and teens will be encouraged to “Grow Your Own Way.” In addition to reading, programs throughout the summer will focus on hands-on learning activities and topics, such as environmentally friendly crafts, gardening, and even bugs and worms. 

Heights Libraries summer reading programs run June 6 through Aug. 31. Kids and teens can sign up at any of the four Heights Libraries branches: Coventry Village, Lee Road, Noble Neighborhood, or University Heights. Everyone gets a prize book when they sign up, and another book after reading for 30 days.

“It’s really important for kids to have their own books at home, in addition to checking out books at the library,” said Lapides. “Kids can win other fun prizes, but the prize books are a crucial part of our program. Having books in the home sends a strong message that reading is an integral, life-long skill that plays a part in every aspect of our lives, including giving us joy.”

Adults shouldn’t feel left out. They’ll have their own summer reading program, also called “Growing to New Heights,” with garden-focused prizes like a two-person yearlong membership to the Cleveland Botanical Garden and Holden Arboretum, a gardening prize package including a $50 Bremec Garden Center gift card and gardening books, and an indoor herb garden grow kit.

Full details about summer reading are available at heightslibrary.org.

Sheryl Banks

Sheryl Banks is the communications manager for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library System.

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Volume 15, Issue 5, Posted 11:26 AM, 04.29.2022