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Elementary schools work to keep kids reading over the summer

Jayonna Foster carefully eyed the choices at her feet.

"The Poky Little Puppy" or "Just Go to Bed"? Batman or Dora?

Then she saw the pink cover and bright yellow letters: "Empress of Everything, By Ruby Lu."

"This is my favorite," the rising third-grader said. "I love to read."

She quickly knelt to grab it as 10 other children made their choices.

They were the first group of students this summer to experience Independence Elementary's "Reading Rocks."

It's part of a larger effort by several Rock Hill elementary schools to keep kids reading over the summer when educators say students can backslide, losing some of the academic progress they made during the previous school year.

"If we can encourage reading, that's important," Independence Principal Marc Swygert said. "We saw from our scores that over the summer there's a little regression in reading. We figured we could do a couple initiatives and build on them each year."

While there's no coordinated effort across the district, teachers and administrators from various schools volunteer their time to try different approaches.

Belleview Elementary teachers are targeting struggling readers. Thirty-five students selected for the program visit campus over the summer for reading lessons. They get three books to borrow on each trip.

"We know a lot of our students don't have access to literacy materials at home," Principal John Kirell said. When the students visit, it's an opportunity to "catch up with them and ask, 'How is your summer going?' "

Independence and Old Pointe schools have launched outreach programs. Over the summer, the schools' principals and teacher volunteers are taking boxes of books to neighborhoods in their attendance areas.

They bring snacks and play educational games with the children.

"We want to keep our kids engaged with literacy initiatives," Old Pointe Principal Tanya Campbell said. "We thought, 'Hey, wouldn't it be cool to go to the kids this summer.' "

Weeks before their visits, they post fliers around the neighborhoods and advertise on Facebook.

Old Pointe has held two outreach programs so far, one at Market Place Apartments and the other at school.

"We had kids in corners just reading books with adults," Campbell said.

'It was just a blessing'

Nearly 30 children showed up at each session.

Beverly Mann's son Antonio, a rising fifth-grader, was one of them.

"To have the principal, the assistant principal and the counselor and two other teachers come down ... it was just a blessing," Mann said. "They made our kids feel so special. I have never seen the kids so excited about reading."

Antonio, who can't wait to finish "Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets" and get another book, said the visits are helpful.

"I can practice (reading) through the summer, and when school starts I can remember it and read better," he said.

Old Pointe's library is also open from noon to 2 p.m. Wednesdays in July for students to read, check out books and use computers.

On Independence Elementary's first day of Reading Rocks, Swygert and several teachers visited two neighborhoods.

At Arborwood apartments, the children read with teachers, wrote about what they like to do during the summer, used crackers and candy to make maps of South Carolina's regions, ate snacks and played an outdoor bowling word game. Before leaving, they each got to choose books and an educational game to keep.

"We make it a fun-filled, quick two hours," Swygert said. "So if they want to go to the pool afterwards, they have plenty of time."

Any child is welcome.

When a couple of boys who attend another school peeked in to see what was going on, Swygert invited them over for snacks and books.

While Swygert hopes for larger turnouts in the future, he's satisfied.

"If we had two students, I would have felt it was a success," he said.