Summer reading just got a bit easier for students at Ridgecrest Elementary in Hyattsville.
Teachers have volunteered to staff the school library during the school break for a few hours each week to provide access to books their students might not otherwise have.
Carolyn Marzke of University Park, a fifth-grade reading teacher at Ridgecrest, started the program this year, and solicited teachers to help with the effort.
“Most weeks, it’s open at least one day, often two,” Marzke said. “The principal arranged robocalls to families ... letting them know when the school library is going to be open.”
Marzke said that year after year, she sees the loss in reading skills that occurs over summer break and hoped the library effort will help prevent the problem.
“There’s a huge problem with summer reading loss,” Marzke said. “It’s very, very discouraging, because you don’t want to keep going over the same ground, spinning your wheels, as a teacher.”
Katie Willse, chief programming officer for the Baltimore-based National Summer Learning Association, said that according to studies by her organization, students lose an average of two to three months of instruction over the summer.
“Children from low-income backgrounds are disproportionately affected, particularly in terms of reading loss,” Willse said. “Families that have means are able to arrange opportunities for summer learning, such as camps or programs, but not all of those opportunities are evenly distributed across economic backgrounds.”
More than 94 percent of Ridgecrest’s students qualify for free and reduced meals, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.
Marzke said that for her students, it’s difficult to get books.
Many do not have books in the home, and for the majority of students who live near the school, getting to the nearest public library themselves requires two bus changes and a walk across the very busy Riggs Road, Marzke said.
“The kids don’t have access to the [public] library; it’s too far for them to go, their parents are working and can’t take them,” Marzke said.
Marzke said she has set a goal for third- through sixth-graders: reading at least 30 minutes a day for 80 percent of their days off. The prize for students meeting that goal has yet to be determined, Marzke said.
“We thought we’d try this experiment. We wanted to see if we kept this library open for a portion of time, combined with this little incentive, would they come,” Marzke said.
Ridgecrest Principal Denise Dunn said having the program is a huge asset to the school.
“Many students in our school do not have access to books at home and research shows that in order for children to improve in reading they need to read every day,” Dunn said. “We want to minimize ‘summer loss’ when students return after the break, and hopefully this will help.”