I decided that the next summer would be different and that we would open our library and have students and families come to school and check out books over the summer. My Media Center specialist and I put together a plan that included opening for eight Wednesdays, starting after July 4th. We decided to open from 9am-noon and then again from 4-7pm at night to accommodate work schedules and try to get as many families as possible to participate.
My Media Center Specialist, developed wonderful themes each summer that had the children read different genres of books and keep track on a reading sheet. At the end of the summer, the children received special prizes and Barnes and Noble gift cards. On certain days, we would invite our local Nature Center to present special programs, invite Mystery Readers that fit the theme and held a Book Fair to assist in funding with the summer reading program.
Besides the initial planning by my Media Center Specialist, the cost of labor for library clerks and the prizes we provided were the largest cost. Our summer budget is somewhere around $2500. Last summer, we had over 300 students come to school to check out books. Students would use our computers and also have an opportunity to check out some of our intervention programs like the One Minute Reader Program.
There were some logistics to think about. I had to work with our maintenance department to clean our library and front hallway first before other buildings to allow for access. Our building is air conditioned, so on extremely hot days; I worked with maintenance to allow for air in the building.
Some of the families in our rural community do not have access to a public library due to where they live. This program provided a welcome opportunity to keep their children connected as readers over the summer. We welcomed our new kindergartners to join us, which gave them a great opportunity to visit their new school over the summer and begin the transition to becoming a “Little Wildcat!”
To extend the program, we considered providing bus transportation to our underserved areas in the district and also planned on bringing a “book mobile” to these areas to reach out to those who did not have transportation and couldn’t visit us.
Our community has reveled in the opportunity to come to school over the summer. I delegated the work and never felt obligated to be in attendance on Wednesdays!
Another special literacy program that touched my heart was our Pawsitive Influence reading program that provided an opportunity for children to enhance their reading skills by reading to a trained therapy dog at school. A local veterinarian and her staff members generously volunteered their time and that of their trained therapy dogs to come to school and have kids read with them.
The premise of the program is for therapy dogs to serve as a child's reading partner. Studies have shown that early readers who are fearful of making mistakes more readily take risks reading to a non-judgmental furry friend. The reading scores, self confidence and esteem of participants in therapy dog reading programs have been shown to increase as reticent readers practice their skills while reading, snuggling and petting these gentle canines! Additional benefits are a new found excitement for reading, decreased absenteeism and an increase in the check out of books from the library! Children in the program, even those who may have had a fear of dogs, develop a better understanding and comfort level with dogs.
The handlers and their dogs visited during the school day on Mondays giving children a half hour to greet and read to a therapy dog always in the presence of his/her handler. The children’s classroom/reading teacher referred them to participate in the program. Our Intervention Specialist, contacted parents for consent for participation, scheduled and supervised the reading sessions. The program has been a phenomenal success and grant funds were secured through our local foundation to purchase books specifically for the program.
The program definitely builds character and fosters positive connections and relationships within the school and our community. Students are so excited about the program that they can't wait to meet their dog each week and read to them. The connection made with the Vet Clinic is a perfect way to include our community members as an asset to our programming here at school.
According to our Intervention Specialist, children working with her were often resistant to reading aloud, but now it's become a high point of the week for some children.
"The big difference is the kids are now laughing and smiling when they're reading. They're asking when they can come again, They are so enthusiastic." She said the children's enthusiasm also has led to faster gains in reading ability. "They'll take risks (in sounding out words) reading to the dogs,"
Our Media Center Specialist has seen an increase in children's interests in checking out books to read to their therapy dogs. She tells a story of one child who picked out a book and asked, “Do you think my dog will like this story?”
Kids aren't the only beneficiaries, the veterinarian said, the dogs seem to love the program, too.
"They love to come. When I ask (her dog), 'Do you want to go to school?', she gets all excited and is jumping up and down to get into my car. They love the attention. I think they know they're doing something special."