Students at Arundel High School will be hitting the books - and magazines and newspapers - this summer as part of a new initiative designed to promote lifelong reading.
Previously, only students in honors or college-level Advanced Placement classes had to complete reading and other assignments during the summer months. This year, however, all of Arundel High's approximately 2,000 students will turn in a reflection on their summer reading as their first assignment in every class. Arundel is the only high school in the county to undertake such an effort.
"Reading and writing is all about practice," said Sharon Stratton, principal of the Gambrills school.
Educators are trying to find ways to motivate students to read for pleasure because more standardized exams test these skills. The SAT includes a persuasive essay, and rising ninth-graders will have to pass Maryland's High School Assessment tests to receive their diplomas in 2009.
Arundel students last year participated in the Maryland State Department of Education's "Strive for 25" program, which urged high-schoolers to read 25 books or magazines a year. Arundel students reported in a survey that they'd read more, although they failed to log their work.
"Strive for 25" allows technical reading for classes, such as 100 pages of a textbook, to be counted as a book.
A research brief by the Southern Regional Education Board, which supports comprehensive reform plans for schools, shows that successful private schools require students to read over the summer, for both English and other courses. Most public high schools do not have this requirement.
"Literacy is power," said Brenda V. Gibson, chairwoman of the English department at Arundel High.
She and media specialist Kathy Bishop have fielded a number of inquiries from families about the assignments.
One parent of a special-education student said the child had never really read a book, Gibson said. She said she encouraged the parent to help the child read about what he was interested in: fishing.
"It's making the connection to your interest that will promote becoming lifelong readers," Gibson said.
Students must read a book for English classes but can read an article in a magazine or newspaper to meet the requirement for other courses.
Those in AP and honors classes don't have to complete additional reading but must complete assignments given by their teachers.
Kayla Baker, a rising senior from Odenton, said the new summer reading program is a good idea for younger students, although she said she wasn't sure about the benefit for juniors and seniors who are more likely to be taking more rigorous courses.
"It's just adding more work that they have to do over the summer," she said.
Baker, who is enrolled in four AP courses, already is reading the four books assigned for AP literature and composition during breaks from her full-time job as a lifeguard. Given the new requirement, she also plans to read books for two elective courses.
Suggested reading lists for Anne Arundel County students can be found at www.aacps. org/html/studt/sum_read.htm.