If you ask a young child what “summer slide” means, you’re likely to hear something about their favorite playground or a water park. But ask a teacher, and you’ll get an entirely different answer. For them, “summer slide” means work...not play.
Okemos, Michigan. 10 a.m. Clear skies. 80 degrees.
The pad sits ready.
Major Tom is putting his helmet on, metaphorically speaking.
At his feet, a few tiny ground control crewmembers are helping Tom Shilts with the launch.
They’re sitting on the floor...and soaring into space. Just the way reading should be.
Shilts is the youth librarian with the Capital Area District Libraries in Okemos. Today he’s reading “Earth Space Moon Base” by Ben Joel Price. These story time sessions get the kids reading, talking, playing, singing and writing. All these activities add up to the concept called literacy.
Summer is a busy time for the Okemos branch library. It’s when head librarian Betsy Hull makes a strong pitch to her patrons with young children.
“Sit down with them and enjoy the book that you’re reading right there, right then,” Hull urges. “It can be a picture book; it can be anything that they want to read through together. That’s where it all starts.”
Building good reading skills can be a challenge when school is out. That’s especially true for economically disadvantaged kids who have few learning resources.
The Boys and Girls Club of Lansing offers summer recreation for more than 250 children each day. But there’s also time set aside for tutoring.
“What I’m finding is that a lot of the kids are very, very willing to learn,” says Lois Demps, a volunteer for the RSVP Foster Grandparent program. “And they especially like it when there’s a little competition there. So it’s turning out great, I’m enjoying it and I think they’re benefitting.”
Today, Demps is having some quality one-on-one time with seven-year-old Isaiah. He’s reading about a red hen.
The program director here, Christina Medina, has an acute interest in Isaiah’s reading ability. He’s her son.
“He likes it,” Medina explains. “But he doesn’t really always enjoy it because he struggles.”
The school wanted to hold Isaiah back in kindergarten, Medina explains, but could not because of his age. She knows his reading isn’t yet at grade level...but Medina is happy with his instruction, and hopeful for his prospects.
“The fact that he can actually sound out the words is a great thing for him,” Medina says.
Isaiah is going into second grade. Once he gets to third, he’ll be required to meet the state reading proficiency standard or else face retention.
Lois Bader knows there’s a lot of kids in Michigan like Isaiah. She’s not a fan of the new law.
“This is going to be devastating; there’s no question about it,” Bader says. “Some adjustments will have to be made.”
Bader is the executive director of the Capital Area Literacy Coalition. She’s an emeritus professor at Michigan State University who still teaches literacy course work to education students. More than 100 of them work with her each semester as reading tutors.
Bader is a strong advocate of reading to children from an early age. But she feels the state’s one-size-fits-all mandate doesn’t tailor to individual student development.
“One of the things that we’ve ignored in this country is the fact that children grow at different rates,” says Bader. “Sometimes extremely bright children are really not ready to read until fourth grade, but we don’t give them a chance.”
Back at the Boys and Girls Club, Isaiah Medina makes it through his lesson.
His mother Christina dabs her tears.
“After he read the story, he just came and told me, ‘Mom, I read the whole story!’” she exclaims.
“He was like, ‘I did it, I sounded out all the words!’ So, just to see the joy on his face, knowing that he actually was able to read on his own...that just makes a mother just feel happy. I’m thrilled and emotional at the same time, just to say that my baby is finally able to break through.”
The book is a small victory. Literacy is a journey, not a destination. But Isaiah is fueling up his own rocket.