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August 15, 2021

Summer Learning Teamwork, a Pursuit of Excellence in Action

Beth Duda, director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) centers our work around five pillars:

  1. School Readiness (the 0-5 years)
  2. Attendance
  3. Summer Learning
  4. Parent and Family Engagement
  5. Health Determinants for Reading Success

During the summer of 2021, thanks to the generosity of The Patterson Foundation, SCGLR conducted the Suncoast Summer Reading Challenge, working with 80 different summer camp and summer program providers to encourage more than 5,000 children to read at least six books over the summer months. SCGLR also worked directly with the families of 3,133 children through a program called THIS BOOK IS COOL! Children participating in THIS BOOK IS COOL! received twenty high-quality books, an activity book with enrichment ideas for each book, access to THIS BOOK IS COOL! webisodes highlighting each book, and weekly contact with an SCGLR team member.

As children went back to school, more than 30 members of the Suncoast Summer Reading Challenge team gathered for a Zoom meeting to review the experiences of the past ten weeks and share the “orchids and onions” discovered along the way.

The meeting started with a question of the day. Each attendee was asked to think about their summer work experience and share a word that came to mind. Their words gave a powerful glimpse into the heart of this team.

We began by reviewing all of the stages of the project, pointing out the things that worked well (the orchids) and identifying areas we could strengthen in the future (the onions). The admiration and appreciation we have for each other were on full display as we looked at the scope of what had been accomplished. Perhaps team member Ben Tollefson expressed it best when he said, “I am so grateful to be a part of a team of really good people, working hard to make good things happen for children and families.”

We touched on the following areas:

  • Overall Coordination
  • Registration and spreadsheet wizardry, keeping track of the thousands of participating children, organizations, and families.
  • Creation of five grade-level specific activity books
  • Logistics, ordering, and storage of the more than 70,000 books
  • Connecting with ESOL families
  • THIS BOOK IS COOL! book selection and webisode creation
  • Book packing, coordination, and distribution
  • Suncoast Summer Reading Challenge connectors
  • THIS BOOK IS COOL! connectors
  • Family Engagement Night events.

I jotted down some of the orchids as they were being shared:

  • “I will always remember the faces of the parents overwhelmed by gratitude for this program.”
  • “I made friends with many of the parents I connected with each week, and I look forward to our continued connections.”
  • “I really appreciate how much summer providers care. It was a pleasure to connect with them and work with them.”
  • “It is rewarding to work with a group of people so committed to the success of each child.”
  •  “It was heartwarming to see parents so engaged in their children’s learning. Many of them went above and beyond to engage the whole family in the activities.”
  • “I am awestruck and inspired by what we were able to accomplish this summer.”
  • “I cherish the amount of love that was given and received this summer.”
  • A reoccurring theme in the reflections of the team was the importance of each connection. 

Team members have been sharing the communications they received from parents. Each comment affirms the work and strengthens our commitment to the children and families of our region:

  • “Changing the world one reader at a time!!!” 
  • “Thank you so much! It was really awesome that she got some books about people of color as well!!!” \
  • “Can you just imagine how much of a difference you make in the lives of all the kids you’ve touched with these books?” 
  • “At the start of the summer, she never read a book on her own or even started it. Last night she was reading 80% on her own, and it is because THIS BOOK I COOL! helped us, thank you!”
  • “My girls love their story time every night, programs like this expose them to great books they may not have chosen for themselves, but we enjoyed them all.”
  • “The interactive activities and craft ideas helped us keep them busy during the summer months. I don’t hesitate to encourage everyone we know to sign up, and we will be signing up again next year!”
  • “The chain of events that occurred after beginning this summer program has been amazing! It is quite likely that my daughter would have regressed verbally and with OT skills this summer, but THIS BOOK IS COOL! allowed her to thrive, and for that, I thank you and everyone involved in making this program come to life.”‘

We also touched on areas we would like to strengthen. We maintained strong communication with 86% percent of the families throughout the summer. We will look for new ways to engage the 14% of families whose interest waned throughout the summer. Picking up the books was difficult for some families because of work schedules and transportation challenges. We will continue to work with community partners to facilitate book distribution. We also are exploring the possibility of having experiential learning opportunities for families at the time of book distribution. Expressed as an onion, but easily recategorized as an aspiration, is our desire to engage even more asset-limited families in summer learning.  

We all left the meeting proud of what we had accomplished and excited by the opportunity to strengthen our impact moving forward. This is what a pursuit of excellence looks like in action. 

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