Each year, between May and July, we at Public Education Partners (PEP) receive hundreds of notes from students, teachers, and families across Greenville County, South Carolina, thanking us for Make Summer Count, a program we designed in collaboration with Scholastic and Greenville County Schools to target the summer reading slide for some of our community’s most vulnerable elementary students.
We save every one of these beautiful notes, posting them on walls and bulletin boards throughout our office, returning to them frequently for inspiration and reminders of the “why” underpinning Make Summer Count. Here’s one of my favorites, from a 5th grader at Greenbriar Elementary School:
All I’ve got to say is “Thank you.” This is my last year at Greenbriar, and now I’ve got a library of books to read. We read more as a family. I now read to my little brother. Knowing that I’m an inspiration to his education empowers me to learn more! I like my books so much that after we read as a family, after rocking my brother to sleep, I sneak my books to bed. I’ve also been growing a lot in vocabulary. What used to be an 89% is now a 100%! You are my heroes.
This student captures all of the reasons why I love Make Summer Count: building home libraries, improving academic outcomes, and seeing how Make Summer Count is now having a multi-generational impact. I particularly like his sentence, “We read more as a family.” Encouraging and supporting family literacy is a critical component to Make Summer Count and thus, to the goal of eliminating the summer slide. Each spring, each of our twenty-nine partner elementary schools have Make Summer Count Book Celebrations, which help students build home libraries by allowing them to select ten free, high-interest, just-right books to own, take home, and read over the summer. We then host Family Reading Nights throughout June and July at our partner elementary schools, during which families are invited to return to their school and we model read-aloud strategies, as well as allow families to practice such strategies, with the goal of these strategies being then utilized back at home.
Family Reading Night is a component of Make Summer Count that we’ve fine-tuned since the program’s official launch in 2014. Family Reading Night began simply with a guest reader reading a book to all attending families. It was a fun and enjoyable experience for families, but not explicitly programmed or positioned to affect family literacy behavior. The Family Reading Night design has evolved to a much more intentional focus on how to best engage families in literacy strategies to observe, learn, practice, and then take home to use.
Here’s how a Family Reading Night Works. Upon arriving at their school’s Family Reading Night, families are organized into small groups by their student’s grade level. Volunteer readers, all of whom have gone through a PEP-led Family Reading Night training, engage these small groups of families in a read-aloud using a pre-selected book (each family also receives a copy of this book to take home), debriefing periodically with the adults about the types of questions and literacy strategies that the volunteers are modeling. Volunteers then invite families to finish the book with their children and practice utilizing the modeled strategies, allowing the trained volunteers to circulate the room, answering questions, and providing guidance and encouragement.
As a result of these programmatic improvements in Family Reading Nights (and because at the conclusion of the Family Reading Night, students are able to select a few more free books to take home!), principals are becoming more invested in encouraging families to attend, and the word is spreading amongst families. We’ve seen attendance at Family Reading Nights increase each year, with one school topping out at over 200 families last summer. As of July 1, we are nearly halfway through Family Reading Nights and are seeing an average increase of ten attendees per Family Reading Night.
Further, we’re seeing results due to an in-depth research study conducted by Scholastic Education Research & Validation in both 2016 and 2017, which explored families’ attitudes toward the Family Reading Nights. In 2017, we found that families were overwhelmingly positive in their assessments of the summer reading activities and associated effects on their children. For example, 95% of families agreed that Family Reading Nights were valuable in learning how to support their children’s reading. Families also highlighted several ways in which Family Reading Nights helped them: 60% of families agreed they learned ways to talk to their children about books; 56% of families connected with their children about reading; and 51% of families learned the importance of encouraging their children to read during the summer. Also of note, 46% of families were able to connect with other families at their children’s school through Family Reading Nights, building a community of families who have not only Make Summer Count to support summer reading in their homes, but each other as well. Thus, we’re helping to build a new norm around the role families play in the literacy lives of their children, especially over the summer.
Which brings me back to the Greenbriar Elementary 5th grader’s letter, revealing how Make Summer Count’s efforts to increase access to books and literacy strategies in the home during the summer has spanned the familial generation: parent reads with 5th grader, 5th grader reads to younger brother. Because of our collaboration with Scholastic and our district, Greenville County Schools, we’ve helped foster what’s now being referred to as a literacy movement in Greenville, South Carolina.
Public Education Partners