Stopping the summer slide: Baltimore County libraries offer downtime reading program

August 21, 2019 • Filed under News, Press Coverage Highlights

When Gia Bastien, of Towson, was a child growing up in a rural area of Maine, her parents, trying to protect their African American daughter in an overwhelmingly white state, pulled her out of school in the fourth grade.

Bastien, who now lives in Loch Raven Village, said she struggled for years to catch up on what she had missed, especially in reading and literacy skills. She succeeded; she graduated just a few weeks ago from the Community College of Baltimore County and will be attending Morgan State University on a full scholarship in the fall. Despite her success, Bastien said she wants something better for her three sons.

“I don’t want to see my children struggle,” she said. So, for the past three years when school ended, Bastien has taken her children to the Towson library and has them sign up for the Summer Reading Challenge.

“In my household, reading is definitely important,” Bastien said.

The Summer Reading Challenge is a countywide program in which kids can earn prizes by reading books and participating in activities throughout the summer. Conni Strittmatter, youth and family engagement manager for the Baltimore County Public Library system, said the program is designed as something of an academic bridge.

“We believe that we serve a role in the community to help fill in the gap of summer when it comes to learning for the kids in the county,” Strittmatter said. “Our summer reading challenge encourages children to read, experience and to share throughout the summer.”

Children, particularly those from low-income families and minority groups, often experience what some call a “summer slide,” said Aaron Philip Dworkin, the new CEO of the Baltimore-based National Summer Learning Association.

Retired Johns Hopkins University sociologist Karl Alexander did some of the first research on summer learning loss, following Baltimore students from early school years in the 1980s through adulthood. His team found that by the end of fifth grade, middle-class students often were ahead of grade level in reading comprehension, while more disadvantaged students tended to be years behind.

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