By Travis Smola
“March as they say, is reading month. But we really want our kids to be thinking about literacy every single day,” Sunset Lake Elementary Principal Amie McCaw told a group of parents during a community Synergy Event in early March.
The event was a slight spin on the school’s traditional family night, with an extra focus on literacy. This year, the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation’s “Big Read Machine” bus was on display at the event. The bus will travel around the community over the summer to deliver books to children. McCaw said they are looking into ways to have the bus provide free Wi-Fi too. The idea is to combat the educational “summer slump” in reading proficiency that happens over summer break.
Derek Wheaton, a former principal and now a prominent education consultant, was a key speaker at the event. He dove more into why summer reading such an important issue. “If a child reads over the summer months, it’s a gain of one month of reading proficiency,” Wheaton said. “If they don’t read over the summer, it’s a loss of two to three months.”
Wheaton said studies have shown that a student who reads just 20 minutes a day will be exposed to up to 1.8 million words in a year. It has a major effect, as the student is much more likely to score in the 90th percentile. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a student who only reads one minute a day is only exposed to 8,000 words a year and more likely to score in the 10th percentile.
“Research studies for 25 years tell us the amount of reading that students do matters,” Wheaton said. He encouraged parents in attendance to help encourage reading by setting an example in reading more themselves. He said it was important for parents to read to children.
In order to encourage more reading in the home, he suggested making some tradeoffs with children., perhaps encouraging a child to read a specific length of time before the child is allowed time to do another enjoyable activity.
Wheaton has primarily advised schools directly in the past, but he hopes he can do more events like this in the future to connect directly with the parents.
The Vicksburg District Library was also on hand to promote literacy. In addition to its regular reading programs, this year the library is expanding its summer reading program slightly into a “Summer Adventure” program that packs in other educational opportunities. “Children have a chance to come in and do crafts or come in and socialize with board game nights or other ways to get out of that summer slump,” said Adrianne Schinkai, the library’s head of Circulation and Reference Services.
This year, volunteer parents and the school worked together to bring in multiple sponsors like Jaspare’s Pizza and Family Fare to fund and hand out prizes at the event. The event also brought the opportunity for community organizations like Generous Hands to promote their extensive work in the schools. Generous Hands helps provide food for approximately 300 children in the district on weekends.
“These children have free and reduced food at school, and they don’t always have a lot of food on the weekends,” Generous Hand’s Executive Director Sheri Louis said. Generous Hands also provides vouchers to help families get essential items like milk, bread, eggs and produce. They handed out information to families on how they could use their services at the event.
This year was the first time Sunset has involved all these local organizations in a Parent’s Night. McCaw was pleased with how it turned out. “We really had a great response when we reached out to our community,” she said.