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September 21, 2020

Leave the Summer Slide on the Playground

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Port Charlotte Sun on September 19, 2020. Angie Matthiessen is the executive director of United Way of Charlotte County. She can be reached at

What child doesn’t love the feeling of sailing down a playground slide in the summer? It takes no effort (if you don’t count climbing up the ladder). It feels carefree and is just plain fun. But it happens so quickly. Mom or dad might have their camera ready to take a photo, but the moment is often gone before the shutter clicks.

It’s no wonder we refer to learning loss as the summer slide. It is an identical experience — from the climb up the ladder (nine months of gradual education gains in the classroom) to the fun and fast act of sliding down to the ground (three months of carefree summer bliss resulting in learning loss).

Summer will always go by too fast and should always be fun. Fortunately, all it takes is a deep love of reading to slow the summer slide while keeping things carefree.

Having a home library is a simple way we can increase the literacy skills of a child. As few as 20 books in a child’s home have been shown to impact their level of education, and more books add more benefit.

The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading aims to increase early-reading proficiency across our four-county region. The campaign annually offers its Summer Reading Challenge to area children in Pre-K through third grade, and this year was no exception. Children who were qualified and participated received up to 20 books as a gift from The Patterson Foundation — the perfect number to make an educational impact.

Due to COVID-19, Beth Duda, director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR), rose to the challenge of a steeper-than-usual summer slide by steering the Summer Reading Challenge in a unique direction.

Together the SCGLR team planned and organized 100 webisodes of THIS BOOK IS COOL! that aired weekly to benefit young readers across Southwest Florida. Beth reviewed a different book on each episode along with a special guest. The webisodes allowed children a chance to hear why an adult thought the books they were reading were cool. I was thrilled to share my thoughts with viewers on why I fell in love with the sheep in Sheep in a Jeep, by Nancy Shaw.

Across Southwest Florida, 5,302 children participated in the Summer Reading Challenge. Of those, 681 were Charlotte County children. Some joined the program through a childcare facility or other youth-serving program. Some joined at home with the guidance of their parents and caregivers, and home libraries were created in some homes this summer for the very first time.

A total of 94,383 books were read across Southwest Florida through the program, including 20,021 books in Charlotte County. The thoughtfully chosen books and the engaging related webisodes made reading fun and slowed the summer slide.

THIS BOOK IS COOL! and the Summer Reading Challenge of 2020 will go down in history as one of the amazing bright spots of this bizarre year.

Our children have enough to deal with this school year. They didn’t need the added stress of having to climb up the ladder once more. Learning is hard work, and relearning is discouraging.

The Charlotte County Grade-Level Reading Update meeting will be held virtually Oct. 29. If you would like to attend or want more information on how you can be involved in our local efforts to get all our children reading on grade level, please contact the United Way of Charlotte County at 941-627-3539. Webisodes are available to view on the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading website and on Facebook.

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