By Nick Nogrady, Program Director, Page Ahead Children’s Literacy Program, guest blogger
Each summer, during the annual hiatus from school, many students lose their reading skills. This phenomenon is sometimes called “summer slide” or “summer reading setback.” It impacts children living in poverty the most, and its effects are cumulative. It is estimated that up to two-thirds of the reading achievement gap experienced by low-income children happens during the summer months.
This is where Page Ahead comes in. Founded in Seattle more than 25 years ago, Page Ahead has become the largest children’s literacy organization in Washington state. We combat summer slide by giving students access to their choice of books as well as holding free book fairs for students in kindergarten through second grade at the end of each school year. The Page Ahead’s book fair program goes by the name of Book Up Summer (BUS).
Based on research by Dr. Richard Allington, ensuring easy and continuing access to free self-selected books to read over the summer is a useful strategy for addressing the summer reading setback and addressing the reading achievement gap. This book fair allows low-income students to self-select 12 free books to read over the summer for three consecutive years. At the conclusion of three years Dr. Allington followed, study results indicated students gained approximately 40% of a grade level in reading. These results are similar to children attending summer school during those three years, at just a fraction of the cost.
At Page Ahead, we target elementary schools with a high percentage of low-income students, and low third grade reading test scores. By targeting these schools, we reach students with little or no access to books in the home, and families unlikely or unable to visit the library in the summer months. More than 80% of students we serve are low-income, and 40% are bilingual.
Book Up Summer works. In Seattle schools that have completed the three year intervention, the gap between low-income schools we serve and the citywide points average for the 1st and 2nd grade reading assessments has been closed by 70%.
Personally, this is a great program to run. I enjoy travelling across the state to meet with educators passionate about closing the opportunity gap. I meet teachers and administrators from farming communities in central Washington, mountain towns in the Cascades, from Seattle to Tacoma to Spokane—these educators know how much these books will mean to their students and families, as well as their communities.
The day of the fair is also very special. The kids can’t believe they get 12 books to keep forever. Just like adults, there are impulse buyers and discerning shoppers. After they pick, each student gets a nameplate to put in each of their books; every book is new and truly their own.
This summer we served nearly 10,000 students at more than 60 schools across all of Washington state. Next year we plan to expand the program to nearly 14,000 students. While the program is very cost effective with a budget of less than $50 per student, an expansion of this level will require a dramatic increase in the organization’s budget. Page Ahead will be seeking new corporate and foundation partners, as well as developing resources in local communities where the program is offered.
If Washington state is looking for an effective and efficient way to improve the reading skills, and reduce the reading achievement gap for low-income students, Book Up Summer offers a promising model of reading intervention.
To learn more, get involved, or make a donation, visit Page Ahead’s website: www.pageahead.org
 Allington, Richard L., Anne Mcgill-Franzen, Gregory Camilli, Lunetta Williams, Jennifer Graff, Jacqueline Zeig, Courtney Zmach, and Rhonda Nowak. “Addressing Summer Reading Setback Among Economically Disadvantaged Elementary Students.” Reading Psychology 31.5 (2010): 411-27. Web.