Teachers at schools everywhere encourage students to read over summer vacation, but thanks to a community effort, all 647 students at Harbison West Elementary School will have an advantage this year. Each of the kids chose three books this week to take home and keep, along with a challenge to read.
The Reading Heroes Project started in the fall, and Harbison West teachers and administrators worked alongside the School Improvement Council and the Parent Teacher Organization to raise more than $6,000 to buy the books. Businesses and community organizations including 2nd & Charles, Allstate, the District 5 Foundation, United Way of the Midlands and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina stepped forward to help as sponsors.
The kids came by class this week to pick their books, a process teachers and administrators said was an important part of the project. “Choice in your reading materials is a very big motivation,” said Harbison West Media Specialist Lucy Ballow.
Principal Arthur Newton, Jr. agreed. ” I think choice is incredibly important,” he said. “We want to make sure we give them ownership.”
Newton said some Harbison West students come from homes where parents struggle to afford books, and getting to a library during the summer may not be easy. The mission of the Reading Heroes Project is to help overcome those hurdles and keep kids reading. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. 4th graders don’t achieve basic levels of reading proficiency, and often, sudents who make achievement gains during the school year lose proficiency in the summer.
“On average, achievement loss during the summer is equal to one month of instruction,” said School Improvement Council Chairwoman Bunnie Ward. “For students who don’t have access to books and other learning materials in their homes, the loss is even bigger. This project is proof that the Harbison West family is committed to helping all of our students achieve success in the classroom and in life.”
The kids also received charts to track their summer reading, and those who hit their assigned reading goals will be rewarded with extra recess. Ward said that extra motivation also helps a lot with elementary students. “It doesn’t have to be something expensive. They appreciate the little things.”
Crystal Owens, mother of a Harbison West student and an Allstate employee, helped secure Allstate’s help by committing to volunteer at the school, and said she would continue to do so in the future. Her daughter “absolutely loves to read,” she said.
Ward said the project organizers were able to come in under budget, leaving some money left over to get things started for next year. The kids chose from a wide variety of books, organized by grad level and ranging from classics like Stuart Little and Madeline to newer books starring Spider-Man, dinosaurs, and many other childhood favorites.
The smiles on the kids’s faces as they made their selections offered early proof of the success of the project, as did conversations overheard as it sank in for the children that the books were theirs to keep.
“Can I get both of these?” one young man asked, and when the answer came, his face lit up: “You sure can if that’s what you like.”
More information on the Reading Heroes Project is available here.
Pictured: Harbison West students posing happily with their newly chosen books (photo by Allen Wallace)