When kids go an entire summer without reading, they're likely to fall behind in school.
A new program of Paducah Public Schools and the Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club seeks to prevent that problem. With help from the Ronald McDonald House Charities, the McCracken County Public Library, United Way and Walmart, students are enjoying "Seamless Summer." The program goes hand-in-hand with a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant the school district received this year to fund free breakfast and lunch for kids this summer.
"We want to nourish bodies and minds for the summer and make sure students are able to maintain their progress physically and mentally," said Will Black, new assistant superintendent of instructional programs.
Every weekday morning, a colorful school bus rolls into the Oscar Cross Park Avenue location, displaying book characters from "Where the Wild Things Are" and Elmo. The bus arrives, with food prepared by the district's food services department. Breakfast is unloaded and served inside the Park Avenue Oscar Cross building.
Small groups of students later go outside to the bus, where librarian Kelly Veatch, who has created a makeshift library with a color-coded system, helps first through fifth graders pick out a book she suspects they'll love. The kids then read in the classrooms for 30 minutes and later can take Accelerated Reader tests.
"It shows them that reading is not just for school days," Cathy Elliott of Ronald McDonald House Charities said. The program is also held at the midtown Oscar Cross location, where sixth through 12th grade students use a different mobile library. The Ronald McDonald House has provided the funds for the two librarians: Veatch, who works at the Park Avenue Oscar Cross location, and Beth Wyant at the midtown site.
The McCracken County Public Library donated 800 new books for the buses. Additionally, program leaders are working to establish permanent libraries at the Oscar Cross locations.
Black said the district hasn't even used the $1,000 United Way grant, which will go toward purchasing more books.
He said the program is going to consider the students' opinions when choosing new books. Walmart also donated $500 for books.
This is the first summer for such a program with Paducah Public Schools. The food services department is feeding close to 1,000 kids a week, which is being funded through the federal grant.
Veatch sits inside the bus and helps kids with their book choice. Girls are often easier to find a book for, Veatch said, but she'll get some of the younger boys interested by asking if they like trucks or sports.
"The goal is to get books in the hands of the kids," she said. "I don't give up on them. There's a book for everybody." One student, for example, wasn't interested in some of the fiction books Veatch recommended, but as soon as she got her hands on a non-fiction book, Veatch now knows what she wants, such as her recent selection of a book on Albert Einstein.
Black said the district is also calling the program "Appetite for the Mind." Every child has a summer reading goal. Those who pass the Accelerated Reader tests with an 80 percent score get to choose from prizes and games. Maria Long, the program director at the Park Avenue Oscar Cross location, said the rewards and simply the colorful room where tests are taken excite students about finishing books.
In May, the district tested every students reading comprehension. At the end of the program, participants will be tested again to gauge the program's success. Studies show students who go even a few weeks in the summer without reading swiftly lose skills gained the previous school year. The Seamless Summer program has two sessions this summer: June 9-27 and July 7-27. Many students will take part in both programs, but Black said the district can look at students who take a month off to measure how a student's absence from a daily regimen of reading affects the "summer slide," or reading development loss.
"We're asking: 'What does it take to stop the summer slide?'" Black said.
Contact Lauren Duncan, Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8692 or follow @laurenpduncan on Twitter.