‘Read. It’s really that simple’

Students receive free books to curb summer reading loss

Jaiden Woodson and Elijah Smith have their books ready to go

Eighth-graders Sakai Baker, Jaiden Woodson and Jazzmin Groendyke all found something they wanted on shelves stocked with brand new books during Pinewood Middle School’s Summer Book Bag Shopping event.

“I like these books,” said Sakai as he chose a “Goosebumps” mystery.

“I like this one because I can probably relate to it the most,” said Jaiden, about the novel “The Stars Beneath Our Feet.”

“This gives me a chance to refill my shelves,” said Jazzmin, as she chose a graphic book called “Green Hornet.”

Seventh-grader Kyla Mallard chooses three books from the same series

District-wide, more than 400 Pinewood, Valleywood and Crestwood middle school students went summer-book shopping to end the school year, each choosing three free books to read while school’s out. They brought their new reads home in bags, with the option to bring them back to swap them in the fall.

The giveaway, led by Melisa Mulder, secondary English-language arts intervention coach, aims to get books into students’ hands so they can stay on track with their reading. “Many of them don’t have books at home, so it’s also helping them build a library,” Mulder said.

Keeping Pace by Turning Pages

Students who received books are in Read 180, an intervention program for struggling readers, in special education or are English-language learners.

Mulder joined district media specialists in shopping for 2,000 books representing different genres, diverse authors and characters for the event. Kentwood Public Schools is the most diverse district in the state. Books are funded through state at-risk funding.

Seventh-grader Brooklyn Botello said she enjoys historical fiction

Her message: “Read. It’s really that simple.”

“The most important thing is that we want them to have a choice because we want them to be motivated to read, engaged and excited about it. A lot of them are cracking their books open and reading already,” Mulder said at the end of the school year.

She’s held the event at Pinewood for 10 years, this year expanding it to the other schools. Mulder wants to guarantee students have access to books, especially during the summer.

According to the Johns Hopkins University study Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap, more than 80 percent of children from economically disadvantaged communities can lose one to three months of reading skills over the summer, and the loss is cumulative. But providing books of students’ choice for summer reading produced as much or more reading growth as attending summer school, according to the book “No More Summer-Reading Loss.”

“They work so hard over the year and then in the summer if they don’t keep reading they lose traction,” Mulder said. “Keeping the ball rolling over the summer makes such a tremendous difference.”

Mulder is also involved in an initiative to build classroom libraries, stocking their shelves with books that represent students’ various tastes and backgrounds.

Seventh-grader Shy’Ana Thomas was ready to enjoy some new reads. “It’s really good getting a chance to pick out books and stay busy over the summer in an educational way,” she said.

Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio

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