This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The citywide literacy initiative READ! by 4th kicked off its summer reading campaign, called Summer of Wonder, against the backdrop of a mural at Alexander K. McClure Elementary School on Wednesday.
“I’m excited about the summer reading program, because I usually don’t get to read a lot," said Daniel Stella, a student at McClure. "But now I get to read more, stay focused, and remember what I learned in the 4th grade.”
The campaign is open to all students in Philadelphia. Students who enroll in the program will be asked to read at least six books over the summer and will be given activities to complete such as reading journals, word games and book-based projects to keep them engaged.
Through the program, summer literacy activities will be offered at 53 library locations, with each including about 20 read-aloud titles, along with interactive reading techniques for program volunteers to use in assisting students.
About 100 summer camps and recreational programs will also be offering literacy activities this year as part of READ! by 4th.
Book collections and leveled books for grades K-3 will be available at every location and students will be encouraged to use their library cards to continue reading independently. Volunteers will be trained to assess the student’s reading level at the close of the program.
Free Library of Philadelphia president and director Siobhan Reardon said that the goals of Summer of Wonder are to improve school attendance, encourage family engagement, equip schools and teachers, and increase grade-level reading.
“[They are] pretty auspicious goals. [There is] nothing tiny about them, but that’s what’s great about them,” Reardon said. “If you don’t aspire to big things, big things don’t happen.”
Speakers at Wednesday’s opening ceremony emphasized the importance of literacy efforts in the city. About half of all Philadelphia public and charter school students entering 4th grade read below grade level. This puts these students at a higher risk of falling behind in middle school and dropping out of high school, said District Superintendent William Hite.
“Students need every resource to foster lifelong reading habits,” said Hite at the kickoff event. “Through READ! by 4th, we can maximize our efforts to help every student acquire grade-level literacy skills.”
READ! by 4th, a collaboration of 50 local organizations including the Free Library of Philadelphia and School District of Philadelphia, is aimed at doubling the number of students reading at grade level by 2020.
Over 4,000 students have already signed up for the summer literacy programs that will be made available through Summer of Wonder. At the kickoff event, students each received a book to begin their summer reading list and they were reminded to visit their local library frequently this summer.
“We want to celebrate the beauty of reading and the hope and adventure that goes along with it,” said Sharon Marino, principal at McClure.
Reardon said that there are nearly half a million adults in Philadelphia over age 18 who are functionally illiterate.
“If we can start conquering the grade-level issue early on — [preschool] and all the way through 3rd grade — I think we have made a monumental improvement in literacy and literacy-related issues,” Reardon said.
“We hope [the program] turns into a love of reading.”
McClure 2nd grader Joel Espinal said he is ready to get started. “You can have fun and read books at the same time.”
For more information about Summer of Wonder, a full list of its programs, locations, prices and instructions for registration, visit the Free Library of Philadelphia’s website.
Samantha Weiss is a summer intern at the Notebook.