Research has shown that the summer vacation each K-12 student experiences annually can have a negative impact on their learning. Studies indicate that a student can "forget" up to three months worth of material they have learned the previous year. The answer to this intellectual "backslide" is to engage students in programs over the summer that keep their minds "working." An answer that is becoming more utilized by schools and libraries that serve these communities are summer reading programs.
At Champaign High School in Illinois each student will be required to read a book over the summer. The program's purpose is three-fold: help students maintain their new knowledge over the summer, encourage them to identify what they like to read and provide teachers material they can analyze in the fall to assess at what level each student is reading and writing at by the start of the school year.
The assignment varies by grade. Incoming freshmen will be required to read a book whose theme relates to identity; sophomores must read a book dealing with non-American cultures; juniors will be taking an American literature class so they must read either "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" or "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Native American author Shermen Alexie; seniors must read a book containing a theme about realizing ones individuality within a larger institution.
At Oakdale Elementary School in Northern Illinois, they have worked with the Normal Rotary Club to purchase books for students to use as part of their summer reading program.
"We will target students that otherwise might not have access to appropriate books at their level so they may continue to read and hopefully show less regression this summer," stated principal Derrin Cooper. They encourage students and parents to use the "Find a Book" utility at lexile.com/findabook which helps you search for books that match a child's reading level and interests.
Many colleges are now requiring incoming freshmen to read a book as part of their orientation experience. Vince Fitzgerald, director of Notre Dame de Namar University's First Year Experience Program, explains that these selected books prepare students to begin thinking "as autonomous, brand-new adults taking their first steps into discovering and developing their own values, not just the ones they inherited back home."
Developing the capability to read opens doors to many other methods of learning. The act of reading helps you develop the ability to process information which builds your capacity for conceptual thinking. Reading helps you build your vocabulary which allows you to communicate clearly and creatively with others. You learn to decipher words, decode the meaning of sentences, and concentrate while visualizing what the author is communicating to you.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has developed a successful Summer Reading Challenge that has encouraged students in his state to read more than 7 million books since its inception. The program rewards schools and their students through categories ranging from books read to highest number of pages per students. The focus: Create a fun and engaging atmosphere to engage students in reading.
The capacity to read has always been valued. Its ability to help students retain their knowledge over the long summer months is becoming of increasing importance. Knowledge, like money, is something we all would like to hang on to once it is earned.
Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.