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Revived program seeks to maintain student literacy over summer

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Children’s Books. Photo from urbanworkbench on Flickr Creative Commons.

Following a five-year pause due to the pandemic, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation has restarted its Books Over Break program to increase students' equitable access to books and retain academic progress made during the school year.

The program is designed to provide economically disadvantaged students with at least six self-selected books to take home during the summer break.

Through June 1, the PSF is collecting new and gently used books appropriate for students in pre-K through 8th grade for the Books Over Break program. Donations can be dropped off in collection boxes at any Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools school lobby, Flyleaf Books, Grata Diner and The Chamber for a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro. High-interest books — like graphic novels, books in Spanish and many popular middle school-age titles — can also be purchased at Flyleaf Books for donation.

"The Public School Foundation wanted to do more to support childhood literacy, so we went back to a couple of programs — Books Over Break, which is something that I felt like our community would respond immediately to, and they have," Madeline Blobe, executive director of the PSF, said.

Blobe said Books Over Break is aiming to distribute 10,000–12,000 books this year. After collecting the books, PSF will sort them and send them to the district's 11 elementary schools and four middle schools.

Once schools receive the books, school coordinators will host a book fair for selected economically disadvantaged students to choose their titles.

As part of the PSF's larger literacy effort, Books Over Break is occurring in conjunction with Tailgate Stories, a summer program where teachers will host storytimes over the summer in neighborhoods with higher numbers of disadvantaged students.

A study from the Colorado Department of Education showed that reading just four to six books over the summer has the potential to prevent the "summer slide," or a decline in reading achievement scores while school is out between the spring and fall semesters.

“If kids don’t practice reading over the summer, then it’s harder to get back into the groove when you come back in the fall," Carolyn Walker, a literacy coach at Mary Scroggs Elementary School, said.

Laura Nolan, a librarian of seven years at Seawell Elementary School, said her school serves a very diverse population. She said many students hail from stable-income neighborhoods, public housing, low-income apartment complexes and the women and children’s homeless shelter.

Across the school, she said that students speak 21 different languages at home.

Nolan said the result of the diversity is a huge variance in literacy levels among students. But, Seawell is not the only school in the district with a wide range of literacy levels.

In 2018, a study from the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis found CHCCS has the second-largest achievement gap between Black and white students in the country.

The Policy Circle found that lower literacy rates impact American competitiveness on the global stage and directly correlate to higher unemployment rates and reduced income.

Nolan said, while there are many resources available, she worries they are not accessible to all students. She said there are other barriers to resources, such as transportation and broadband access, that concern her.

Nancy Zeman, the PSF’s associate director for programs, said the PSF aims to provide funds to cover programs that state and local dollars don’t cover. Over the past 40 years, the program has provided more than $15.4 million in supplementary funding to the district. 

“I don’t know really how I would have all the resources I have without the grants through the PSF,” Nolan said. 

She said getting students invested in reading early allows literacy to become a superpower for students. She said for disadvantaged students, literacy may not level the playing field, but it does boost their chances for success.

“It enables kids to escape, it enables kids to find comfort, it enables kids to serve their mental health,” Nolan said.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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