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Summer reading program aims to close achievement gap

If all goes according to plan, books such as "Charlotte's Web" and "The Magic School Bus" will spark the imaginations of 27,000 Baltimore County Public Schools students this summer.

For the second year, books have been distributed to 47 Title I schools across the county as part of a summer reading program, with the goal of reducing the achievement gap between high and low-income students.

Each student at the elementary and middle schools had the opportunity to choose five of 10 age-appropriate books to read over the summer.

"They get to pick out books, which makes it more enjoyable for them," said Laura Bissonette, a facilitator of the program at Lansdowne Elementary. "The kids really get into it. They get to choose what type of books they enjoy."

For parents at the schools who may not have the resources to allow their children have their own private library, the program provides tools that those more fortunate may take for granted.

"Kids like to have things that are their own, and when you go to the library, you get to check out a book, but you have to bring it back," Bissonette said. "With this program, the kids get to keep the books."

"The program hit home with a lot of parents who can't get their kids things," Bissonette said.

Kristin Weston, a reading specialist and co-facilitator of the program at Edmondson Heights Elementary, agreed.

"Some of our students, these are the only books they have on their shelves at all, so they really value those books," Weston said.

"They really value the opportunity to choose the books that they wanted to read over the summer," Weston said. "Out of the 10, they got to choose the five, and they really value that their opinion counts."

Although the five books may not be enough to keep students busy throughout the entire summer, offering them the books fosters a love of reading, said Rebecca Moore, compliance specialist for the Office of Title I at BCPS.

Weston said she noted a change in students coming back from summer break last year, which was the first year the program was offered.

"It was new for all of us, so we were kind of feeling out the program," Weston said."I did see a difference. They didn't have that big summer lag that I've seen in the past.

"But you can attribute that to our summer school, as well as the Baltimore County Public Library reading program," Weston said.

As the children read throughout the summer, they will log their reading minutes and books through a system called "Track It," which is provided through the Scholastic book company, Moore said.

"The parents think that's a fantastic way of begin able to record and acknowledge how much their child is reading," Weston said.

As an incentive for schools and children, the schools with the most voracious readers will win an award and students who read the most will also be awarded, Moore said.

Schools will also be able to hand out their own awards, Moore said.

"We do hope that we will recognize and give a reward out for the students in each grade who read the most minutes," Weston said.

"I just think it's a really great program, especially for our population of students that don't have access to books readily like other students would have and the students really get excited for receiving their own books they can have to take home and not have to return," Weston said.

Last year, 6,540 students in 49 Title I Schools electronically recorded 470,435 minutes of reading in the online system, acceding to data collected by the BCPS Office of Title I.

Title 1 is a federal program with the purpose of ensuring children have a fair and equal opportunity to obtain a quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging state academic achievement and state assessments, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Elementary schools with an enrollment rate of 64.09 percent or higher of students who qualify for a Free And Reduced Meal (FARMS) are part of the program, while other secondary schools with a 75 percent or higher rate of FARMS are eligible, according to BCPS Title I information.

Students can qualify for a reduced rate of 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch, if the monthly income is $3,631 for a household of four, for example.

The six southwest Baltimore County schools that will participate in the program are: Baltimore Highlands, Edmondson Heights, Johnnycake, Lansdowne and Riverview elementary schools and Lansdowne Middle School.


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