In the Virginia Beach Public Schools, our Title 1 organization has established that equity and adequacy are the pillars by which we develop our initiatives and support. With this focus and commitment, we aim to ensure that all students have access to high quality materials and experiences, and especially books at school and at home. What we call our “Access to Books” initiative grew out of a natural progression of our family engagement efforts, and research into access and equity issues provided a foundation for this effort.
Research has consistently shown that the more students read the better readers they become, and that building background knowledge makes them prepared for school and beyond. Children who read for pleasure are also more likely to do significantly better at school than their peers who rarely read. Sullivan & Browns’ (2013) research demonstrated that pleasure reading is linked to increased cognitive progress over time. They recommend that educators and policy makers “support and encourage children’s reading in their leisure time.”
This research helped us to know what questions to ask: Do our students have adequate books and materials in their homes? Do they have what they need to be able to read as often as they need to in order to love reading? The answer to these questions was a resounding no. Our population was comparable with other low socioeconomic communities with children in these communities owning between zero and three books on average at home. Acknowledging this this gave our community a call to action. A robust “Access to Books” program could help remedy this text disparity.
We developed a three-pronged approach that aligned with our family engagement program:
Our data showed that more than half of our students were not coming to school ready to learn. We addressed this by providing a set of books to every family that registered their children for kindergarten at a Title I school. A large group that included preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers, an instructional specialist, a Title I coordinator, and an educational coordinator developed the book packs based on a kindergarten readiness checklist. We decided that at least two of the books needed to be books that were interesting to four- and five-year-olds and accessible as read alouds for families. A committee of teachers picked the books. The office staff at each school gave distributed them to families. This has been an excellent way to show families that their involvement in literacy is the cornerstone of what we do at our schools.
Every quarter, students in grades K-5 receive two books focused on social and emotional themes appropriate to that grade level. These books were selected by teacher committees and reviewed by our parent committee that includes volunteers from all of our Title I schools. Not only did every child get books, but teachers were also given copies for their classroom libraries. Teachers came up with the process for sharing the books with students, sending them home, and then follow up throughout the quarter with classroom book-talks. This really encouraged participation and ensured we had accountability for these resources.
Local data showed that our students were having what is called a “summer backslide,” mirroring national trends for similar socioeconomic communities. Students were making gains during the year in reading, but were coming back to school between one and two months lower than they were at the end of the school year. We believed this was due to lack of resources and experiences over the summer, including access to books. Therefore, we provided all K-5 students with books and writing journals for summer learning. The number of books for each student depended upon the grade level, and the supporting research. We modelled our approach in this area to programs that had already been successful. We also relied upon Richard Allington’s research to help us determine the number of books per grade level.
We knew it was vital to measure the success of our program to provide a sense of accountability and sustainability. Therefore, in summer 2013 and summer 2014 we began to measure the impact of our “Access to Books” program.
To determine if we were helping eliminate the “summer backslide,” all of our students took the DRA assessment in the spring and fall. We collected and analyzed the data using SPSS software, using a statistical base that is reliable and valid. We were fortunate to have these resources but if your community does not have an office within your division to help you with your research, I suggest partnering with a higher education institution. Results have shown a decline in summer backslide.
This program has helped us provid equity and adequacy in our community through the lens of literacy. Our families will have access to 72 new books in their homes, if they remain in a Title I school from Kindergarten through 5th grade. This access will open up the opportunity for families to read together and many possibilities for the future.