March 19, 2014

Groups team up for Rock Hill summer reading programs

Understanding the importance of reading over the summer, local organizations are making a push to increase summer reading programs across the city of Rock Hill.

While the cold and dreary weather of the last few days may make it seem like summer is eons away, community groups in Rock Hill are already gearing up to develop the most extensive summer reading programs the area has ever seen, said leaders across the city.

Rock Hill Reads, the Rock Hill School District and Winthrop University are working to gather books and create programs that will help prevent students, particularly at the elementary level, from suffering from learning loss over the summer.

Each elementary school in Rock Hill will have something, like they did last summer, said Harriet Jaworowski, associate superintendent for instruction and accountability.

In the summer of 2013, schools had flexibility to create whatever programs they saw fit for their students, like opening their libraries a few days a week, hosting story times, or hosting more formal “reading camps.” Programming in Rock Hill’s elementary schools reached 1,400 students last year, Jaworowski said.

The district will give each student $588 in reading materials, according to information given to the school board earlier in March.

“So this year, we’re able to offer that plus some very targeted instruction for specific children who struggle,” Jaworowski said.

The two additional “levels” of programming include a daily reading program for 2.5 hours a day, four days a week for six weeks over the summer. The schools that participate will be funded by the district for $3,500 per school and will each have a first- and second-grade class of 10-15 students.

The third level is a state-mandated summer reading camp, on two different sites with three classrooms of 8 to 12 students who have poor reading skills and probably didn’t meet the standard on the PASS test taken in the spring. Those students will go to class for 5.5 hours, four days a week for six weeks.

This state-mandated program was part of Gov. Nikki Haley’s broader education plan released in January, and while it’s wonderful that the governor and the state value summer reading, what isn’t so wonderful is that, like many other state education mandates, this one isn’t fully funded, Jaworowski said.

“The little bit they gave us for this summer is not covering the cost,” Jaworowski said. “We’re having to supplement it some.”

The document given to the board said that Rock Hill received $29,046 for the program.

In addition to the school’s programming, Rock Hill Reads, an initiative launched by Mayor Doug Echols and the City of Rock Hill, will increase its efforts to support summer reading after getting established last summer.

The Council of Neighborhoods, for instance, wants to expand the presence of “Little Free Libraries” across the city. These “libraries” are essentially just small boxes of books that anyone can put up in their yards. The premise is simple, said Rock Hill city spokesperson Katie Quinn: “Give a book, take a book.”

Terry Plumb, former editor at The Herald, installed the city’s first Little Free Library at the end of his driveway on Eden Terrace.

A third organization, Winthrop University in partnership with these other groups, will use President Jamie Comstock’s inauguration next week to encourage supporting summer reading through its Book-a-Rama event.

Community members are encouraged to donate new or “gently loved” children’s books at drop-off locations across York County, to be donated to schools in Rock Hill and surrounding towns and counties. The organizers of Book-a-Rama hope to collect 5,000 books.

Also throughout the summer, York County libraries will host their free summer reading programs for children and adults.

The collective efforts of the entire community shows that people understand the importance of reading and the social and financial implication of creating strong readers early on in life, said Jaworowski.

“What it really means is we all really understand the significance of doing what’s right for children as far as literacy is concerned,” she said. “That makes us one of the best communities to live in.”

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