When the pandemic struck in early March, school districts across the nation had to make the swift transition to virtual learning. In rural DeSoto County, things were no different. As the summer approached, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) developed virtual learning opportunities to prevent the summer slide amongst DeSoto students. Summer slide refers to the learning loss a student can experience during the two-month summer break. Research shows that students can lose as much as 2.5 months of academic learning during the summer.
DeSoto County became an official SCGLR community in 2019. The School District has made great strides to improve third-grade reading scores. Over the past two years, third-grade reading scores have increased by more than 5%. SCGLR recognizes that it’s a community-wide responsibility to ensure students are reading on grade level by 3rd grade. Thanks to the already established coalition and partnerships, DeSoto students had several summer learning opportunities.
For the third summer in a row, DeSoto children had access to the Suncoast Summer Reading Challenge. Several summer childcare providers participated in the program, including the Louis and Gloria Flanzer Boys & Girls Club, Casa San Juan Bosco, and the Imagination Station daycare center. At each site, students were encouraged to read and log at least six books at their appropriate reading level. Students received bracelets and brag tag necklaces as rewards for reading each book.
This year, SCGLR launched a virtual program called THIS BOOK IS COOL! to reach students who were homebound due to the pandemic. Beth Duda, Director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, describes the program as “a web series designed to help foster a love of reading and love of learning for children from PreK through third grade.”
Throughout the summer, students had access to 100 webisodes featuring a carefully selected book, special guests, recommended vocabulary words, and activities that corresponded with the book. Thanks to the generosity of The Patterson Foundation, participating DeSoto County students received up to twenty free books throughout the summer.
Not only were the kids excited about these summer learning opportunities, but their families were too. As one grandmother shared, “Just wanted you to know, I signed my granddaughter up yesterday and told her she would be getting some books in the mail. Her reply was, ‘Nana, I’m so excited!’ It was really cute.” SCGLR takes on a family engagement approach when it comes to grade-level reading.
Hundreds of DeSoto County students also participated in the district’s AR Summer Reading programs. Students were encouraged to read at least six non-fiction and six fiction books, then take AR quizzes. They were able to earn badges, books, and other prizes for reading. The three elementary schools held a friendly competition to see which could read the most books. During all the available summer programs for DeSoto students, the School District of DeSoto County Food Service and Transportation departments delivered more than 110,000 meals.
The district introduced a third literacy program this past summer called Dive into Reading. It was founded in 2017 by Manatee County business owners and grade-level reading champions, John and Amanda Horne. The program paired 2nd- and 3rd-grade students with volunteers from the community. Students and mentors met virtually for six weeks to read books and study sight words, and the district provided each student with a Chromebook to participate. Dive into Reading was facilitated by Nicole Rice, a certified teacher for the district. Each meeting began with a group session that included an activity or guest reader. Some of the guests included Superintendent Adrian Cline, Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Dr. Jose Erbella, DeSoto County Sheriff Jim Potter, NASA Astronaut Steve Swanson, and even bears and giraffes! Throughout this program, students had the opportunity to earn prizes for themselves and their families. Dive into Reading in DeSoto was made possible thanks to the support of United Way Suncoast and Mosaic. As I participated in the weekly Dive into Reading sessions, I was inspired by the love of reading shared by guests, mentors, and students alike.
Adrian H. Cline, Superintendent of Schools, indicated, “These programs have enriched the reading opportunities for our students during the summer months. Particularly during COVID, summer reading is essential for the continued development of our students.”
It was a joy to see so much support for DeSoto students and their families navigating their way through the pandemic. The weeks and months ahead will be critical in continuing efforts to help our students. SCGLR is committed to improving grade-level reading by continuing THIS BOOK IS COOL! and connecting families to other resources virtually. Stay tuned for more information as SCGLR encourages all stakeholders to explore the possibilities that are out there.
SCGLR is a community-driven initiative led by key community stakeholders. In DeSoto, these stakeholders include United Way Suncoast, The School District of DeSoto County, the Early Learning Coalition of Florida’s Heartland, the DeSoto County Education Foundation, the DeSoto County Health Department, and more.