Summer reading program leads to improved literacy in community

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By Lashana Harney, courtesy of the Winchester Sun

The Clark County (KY) Public Library annual summer reading program has been the highlight for many people’s summers for years.

Renee Wallace, head of youth services at CCPL, said the library has been doing the summer reading program for as long as she can remember, and she’s been at CCPL for 16 years. But her children had participated in the program long before she worked there.

“So a long time,” Wallace said. “… I’m proud of the fact that we have a nine-week summer reading program, not every library can do that. And I’ve always been grateful that our director and our board, consider that important enough for the children of Clark County, that we have that time and budget set aside for that.”

The 2019 summer reading program theme is “A Universe of Stories.”

“We encourage that topic through the summer,” Wallace said. “Whatever the theme is, you’ll see those books on display, but the children can read the books they want to. They don’t have to read to the theme.”

Wallace said the space theme has been a popular theme so far.

“We’ve been very happy with how many books on space, fiction and nonfiction, have been checked out,” she said.

The library also offers an adult summer reading program. Participating adults receive a raffle ticket for every five adult or young adult materials they check out and for every adult services program they attend during June and July.

Registration for the adult and youth summer reading program is available at the library front desk.

The youth summer reading program helps prevent the “summer slide,” Wallace said.

A child who continues to read over the summer is not going to have as much of a difficult time catching up when school starts again compared to a child who doesn’t read throughout the summer, she said.

“The whole goal is children’s literacy,” Wallace said.

The summer reading program also levels the playing field for every child in Clark County.

“If you are not in a household where your mom and dad can take you into Barnes & Noble and let you just select a book, we take care of that for you,” Wallace said.

Statistics, according to the American Library Association, also indicate children with books in the house will be more proficient readers who do better in school.

“We’re helping them to build a personal library,” Wallace said. “I also like it that we’re encouraging them to make the public library a regular part of their lives. We offer so many things here from birth through senior citizens.”

Wallace said she doesn’t believe there’s such a thing as a child that doesn’t like reading. They just haven’t found the right book yet.

“That includes children with reading problems,” Wallace said. “We still can help that child find the correct book, because reading does not come easily to everybody. But we are here to help.”

The library tracks the number of items — not including movies — youth check out. Every item counts toward “book bucks,” which youth can then use to purchase new books at the library’s book store. Each child or teen who buys a new book with book bucks can also enter into a raffle for additional prizes.

Wallace said the summer reading program serves anywhere from 1,300 to 1,500 youth each year, though, she’d like to see the program grow even more.

One way the library is working on expanding the program is by sending its teen and preschool librarians into local schools to sign them up for library cards and the summer reading program.

“We’re really hoping that will make a dent,” Wallace said.

Wallace said the library also continued its kickoff take two this year, which the local Family Resource Centers fund.

The library is also always growing its summer reading program activities by offering brand-activities such as the Wump Mucket Puppet Show, 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the library, while simultaneously offering the return of youth favorites such as Mark Wood, 6 p.m. June 18 and 10:30 a.m. June 19; Silly Safaris, 10:30 a.m. and noon June 26; and Natural History Educational Company of the Midsouth Animal Show, 10:30 a.m. July 24.

Many space-themed parties and activities are also on the 2019 calendar in support of this year’s theme such as Teen Dr. WHO Time Travel Party, Teen “Jedi Skills” Training, Teen Starry Night Painting and more.

When the library hired Wallace, the director told her to make the summer reading program the biggest thing on her calendar. And she did.

“We do things for children all year long, but we pull out all the stops for summer reading,” Wallace said.

The entire library makes the summer reading possible, though, Wallace said. The summers are busier for the library, so everybody works a little faster and more intensely, but it’s all for a good cause.

“It is absolutely a staff-wide project, including the board of trustees who are very supportive of this,” Wallace said. “So there’s nobody here who is not a part of the success of this summer reading program … I’m very grateful our board of trustees and our director put this kind of emphasis on children’s literacy.”

The library, Wallace said, is the best free resource in the community. Having a library card, which is free to obtain, opens the door to many helpful programs and things to get people through their day, their career and more.

The library, and the summer reading program, especially for youth, can even change lives, Wallace said, because reading can put youth on the right path for lifetime success. Studies show children who read show lower tendencies toward juvenile delinquency, lower tendencies toward dropping out of school and are more inclined to finish school, become self-providing citizens who get a job, or a learn a skill and so on.

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t encourage your child to read,” Wallace said. “It’s a win-win, and we make it free.”

Numerous studies indicate that a decline in reading ability and other academic skills can occur over the summer months when school isn't in session. Check with your local library about their summer learning programs for students!


Photo: Clark County Public Library youth services librarians Renee Wallace, left, and Misty Strain talk with a group of summer reading program participants in 2013. The program has happened each summer for at least two decades, and continues this summer with a variety of activities and reading incentives for local youth. (Sun file photo)