Last Thursday evening, siblings David, Thomas and Jennifer Driver, students at Endeavor Elementary, sat at the kitchen table in their Kentwood home coloring little circles in booklets.
“Did you read this morning?” mom Julie Driver asked David, a third-grader. “I know Thomas read this morning. Did you read at school, Jennifer?”
This is Mission: READ!, a county-wide incentive program aimed at getting kids to read every day. The Driver children were among the first participants to sign up for the program, launched at Kent County public libraries on Jan. 7.
The mission is simple: For every day of reading, participants fill in one space in a Mission: READ! booklet. For every hundred spaces filled, they receive a small prize and a planet sticker to place on their Mission: READ! solar system poster. At 500 spaces, they receive a book. When 1,000 spaces are filled, they receive a tablet reader.
“I re-read a book called, ‘Who was Muhammad Ali?’,” said David. “I also read an autobiography about… I can’t remember… oh, Kareem-Abdul Jabar!”
Added Jennifer: “Even the back of the cereal box counts, because it is reading!”
It’s true. Mission: READ! doesn’t dictate what to read.
Bridget Ward, a youth services librarian at the main Grand Rapids Public Library, was on the team of people from GRPL, Kent District Library, Literacy Center of West Michigan and Kent ISD that developed Mission: READ!
“With this program, we’re just asking, ‘Did you read today?’ If you read today, you can mark it in your booklet,” Ward said.
What: An incentive program that encourages children to read every day for 1,000 days. Participants are rewarded with stickers, prizes and a book along the journey, and will receive a tablet reader upon completion of the program.
Who: Open to students in kindergarten through third grade.
How to sign up: To get your child started on the mission, visit any public library in Kent County. These include the Cedar Springs Public Library, the Sparta Township Library, any Grand Rapids Public Library location or any Kent District Library location.
Information: Mission: READ!
One Small Step
The daily step is small enough, but diligence is required to complete the giant leap of a 1,000-day mission. The Driver children had read every day since receiving their booklets. Driver and her husband, Blake Driver, are raising eager readers. How have they managed?
“As parents, it’s about embracing what they love to read versus maybe what I want them to read,” said Driver, who found herself encouraging classics like “Old Yeller” and Choose Your Own Adventure books. “We had to learn that their interests were maybe different than what we wanted them to read. We wanted them to read this classic chapter book and they were like, ‘But we love graphic novels!’, so we’ve had to explore with our kids.”
Driver said Kentwood KDL branch librarians Mr. Greg and Ms. Hennie help her children find materials they enjoy. While this is one way they help patrons, librarians also have been trained to help students with Individual Reading Improvement Plans — or IRIPs. An IRIP is a document that identifies areas for improvement and lays out a plan to remedy deficiencies as identified by student assessments at the start of the school year.
“It’s important that schools and parents understand that the library is here to help,” said Lindsey Dorfman, director of branch services and operations for KDL’s 19 branches. “If students are struggling with reading, they can come to any one of the public libraries and staff are ready to give them tools and resources and support.”
As part of Mission:READ!, librarians are equipped with booster packs: curated books and activities designed to strengthen a student’s reading skills in specific areas pinpointed by an IRIP. These include phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
Participants can sign up for Mission: READ! and find booster packs at the Cedar Springs Public Library, Sparta Township Library and any location in the GRPL or KDL systems. Participation is limited to students in kindergarten through third grade. The program targets them because it is largely a response to a looming challenge: implementation of the third grade reading law.
3…2…1… Countdown to the Reading Law
The law, passed in October 2016 and set to take effect this fall, requires all third-graders to be within one year of grade level proficiency in reading, or risk being held back in school. Recent test scores revealed that only 46 percent of Michigan third-graders passed the English language arts exam. While the law allows exemptions for holding a student back, educators and community literacy partners are taking the challenge seriously.
Beth Travis, principal at East Kelloggsville Elementary, says reading has always been a focus for teachers, but the law has added some urgency to their work.
“We’re a K-3 building so our teachers have been working very hard with all of our students, and they always have,” said Travis. “With the new third grade reading law there are some new constraints put on us, obviously, and what we want to do is make sure our students are getting the best education they can.”
The Kelloggsville Public Schools district, Travis said, is ideally positioned for Mission: READ!, as it has a KDL branch in its high-school building. All students in the district — Young 5s to 12th grade — have library cards and opportunities to visit the library with their class. KDL will be at the school’s Jan. 28 assembly to pitch Mission: READ! to students.
The program’s solar system theme, coincidentally, works well for Kelloggsville’s mascot, a rocket.
One of the biggest strengths of Mission: READ!, said Travis, is it empowers parents to help their children become proficient, and reinforces a family’s efforts to read at home, a recommendation in IRIPs. (The third grade reading law also mandated the IRIP, which has been required since last school year.)
“Not every student comes to school with the exact same abilities and the same background,” said Travis. In addition, she said, “Not every parent feels like they know exactly what’s best for their kids to read at home, so this helps guide them. It’s a great partnership for us.”
We Have Liftoff
In the first five days of the program alone, KDL had 71 children sign up for MIssion: READ! GRPL hadn’t yet tallied their numbers, but Ward said the librarians were getting the word out and were very excited every time a new child signed up.
“Ideally,” said Dorfman, “students will sign up in kindergarten and complete the program by third grade, the year by which they should be proficient.”
“There’s an urgent need to help these kids,” said Mark Raffler, English language arts consultant at Kent ISD. “When kids love to read, everything else in school comes more easily and with greater effectiveness. The results of good reading habits carry throughout their schooling and into adult life.”
While the program’s first finishers are still 900-some days away from meeting their goal, plans are already in the works to help students maximize their use of the ultimate prize: the tablet reader. When they earn the tablet, said Dorfman, students will receive a one-on-one consultation with a librarian who will teach them how to access the library’s e-book platform and check out books that they can read on the tablet.
“Essentially, we’re giving them a library in their hands for completing the program,” Dorfman said.