HYATTSVILLE — On Thursday, Aug. 8, the Hyattsville Summer Reading Program at Rosa L. Parks Elementary School concluded its second year after serving over 100 students.
“One of the things you find in a really long summer break is that a lot of information is lost and those reading skills have to be re-learned,” said Jen Kubit on the Hyattsville Education Advisory.
Last year, the Hyattsville Education Advisory discussed the loss of skills following the summer break and from there they interviewed several schools in the area to see who to pilot the program with. Rosa L. Parks Elementary School was very motivated to participate and with the help of Jan Edwards, hearing and speech sciences professor at University of Maryland (UMD), they were able to enlist a group of 12 student and faculty volunteers to help out and the Summer Reading Program began. During their first summer, they ended up getting about 50 children involved.
“We wanted kids to be able to check out books, which was really crucial to the program,” said Kathy Dow-Burger, another member of the Hyattsville Education Advisory. “We had a steady group of students and volunteers and it was really successful.”
This year, the program was met with other challenges. The Education Advisory tried to get another school involved but they had other obligations. Unfortunately, Rosa Parks Elementary’s meal program was changed to only serve breakfast and the lunch was moved to another location, posing a challenge for some families to go to two different locations. These factors left only about 18 students in the program at the beginning of the summer.
However, there was an upside to the situation. This was the first year Rosa Parks Elementary School had an extended school year program and they opened up the reading program to them. Prince George’s Parks and Recreation had people in for summer camp nearby and asked if their kids could join in as well.
“At first we were discouraged,” Dow-Burger said. “We wondered how we were going to get more kids to come to the program. Jen said we are here to work with the kids and if anyone wants to come in, they can.”
The kids came to the school library every Thursday from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and began the day with group reading time led by different volunteers. Then they broke into smaller groups of about three to five students to pick out a number of books to read and work on different exercises such as rhyming words. After that, children were able to have free reading time and were able to check out books to take home. With this open-door policy, in the end, the Summer Reading Program ended up working with over 100 kids.
“They still get really excited about books which is great,” said Mirna Turcios, head children’s librarian at the Hyattsville library. “They love picking out something based on their personal interest and taking it home. They got really excited about telling us what they read.”
The Hyattsville library supplied the books to the program during both years so that the children could take them home to read as well as enrolled the kids in the library’s Summer Reading Challenge.
“The kids really enjoyed coming,” Kubit said. “We had about 40 students who came not every week, but most weeks. On any given day we’d have about 30 kids at least.”
Some kids were met with challenges such as matching letters to the sounds of the letters so the groups created different activities throughout the reading such as pointing out letters when the occurred or writing frequent words on a dry erase board to help with recognition.
There was also a parent program led by graduate speech and language pathology students from UMD with literacy as the main goal. During the four parents workshops, the idea was to get parents involved and encourage them and their students to learn their home language as well as work with the English language.
The program was able to receive financial support for both years of the program with a grant provided by District 2 County Councilmember Deni Taveras who has been adamant about making sure that the population served has a bridge between the previous school year and the upcoming school year.
“It’s important to elevate students to the incoming year,” Taveras said. “Given the challenges in the school system right now, it’s important that we continue to educate students year round.”
With Taveras’ grant, the program was able to fingerprint volunteers, pay interns, buy backpacks for students and have an end of program party. In addition, at the end of the program, they donated over 250 books to the students to take home.
The program ended up being very beneficial to students, Dow-Burger said, because it allowed them to get to know people outside of their school and build self-confidence in addition getting enjoyment out of reading.
“It was a very positive experience,” Taveras said. “It’s really an asset to the community to allow students to excel and improve their reading.”
Going forward, the hope is to extend the program to further tweak what they have in place now, continue to grow already established relationships created with the extended school year program with Parks and Recreation and Rosa Parks Elementary, and extend the program to other schools.
“The beautiful thing about it is it requires very little money but a lot of manpower,” Dow-Burger said. “As long as we have volunteers, we can keep going.”