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April 15, 2014

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Oregon District Keeps School Libraries Open to Prevent Summer Slide

Oregon’s Salem-Keizer School District is helping its students avoid brain drain—by keeping several school libraries open during the summer months.

Seven Title I media centers throughout the district continue to keep their doors open two hours each week, and local kids are welcome to read, check out books, or attend read-alouds. Although it’s not a new concept, it’s the first time Salem-Keizer has kept summer hours—and so far, kids seem to be enjoying it, says Stephen Cox, the district’s library media program specialist.

reading superhero Oregon District Keeps School Libraries Open to Prevent Summer Slide“This program is for students who are unable to get to the public library to participate in their summer reading program,” says Cox, explaining that the open school libraries are located in buildings that offer the Summer Meal program, where any qualified child age 18 and under can eat lunch, and sometimes breakfast, for free five days a week. “After and before lunch, students are encouraged to go to the school library to check out a book.”

Between 10 and 50 children visit the five elementary and two middle school libraries each week, thanks to $3,500 provided by the district’s Salem-Keizer Education Foundation to keep them open. And, as part of the program—which was widely promoted on the district’s website and at individual schools—students can earn a ticket for each book they read, which can then be entered in weekly drawings for prizes. A grand prize drawing is planned for August.

Although the libraries are run by assistants and parent volunteers rather than certified media specialists, it’s still a step in the right direction for the state’s second largest school district. Back in April 2011, the district lost 90 percent of its librarians when Superintendent Sandy Husk proposed cutting 48 elementary and middle school media specialists in an effort to save $3 million, says Cox. Oregon doesn’t mandate certified school librarians for any grade.

While it’s still too soon to know what impact summer school library hours will have on reading scores, experts know that the “summer slide,” which describes what happens when young minds sit idle for three months, is real. Studies show that kids who read during the summer gain reading skills, while those who don’t often slide backward.

“A conservative estimate of lost instructional time is approximately two months or roughly 22 percent of the school year,” says a report from the National Summer Learning Association. “It’s common for teachers to spend at least a month re-teaching material that students have forgotten over the summer. That month of re-teaching eliminates a month that could have been spent on teaching new information and skills.”

The report notes that family income plays a significant role in determining the extent of the summer slide, with students from low-income families experiencing the cumulative effects of greater learning loss each summer throughout their elementary school years.

Cox says circulation stats at the end of the summer will show just how popular the program was with students-and there are plans to conduct “action research” to find out whether the reading scores of participants went up, down, or stayed the same.

About Debra Lau Whelan

Debra Whelan is a former senior editor for news and features at SLJ.

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