This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Jess Pastore, a literacy coach with the Education Works summer program at Blankenburg Elementary School in West Philadelphia, said her students’ “meeting” with Mayor Kenney has been one of the high points of the sessions.
In a voicemail message for young callers, the mayor, whose favorite childhood books included The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, urges them to “Share your favorite books with me.”
Kids can call 267-689-READ (7323) and leave messages for the mayor.
Pastore said that after she explained who the mayor was and what he did, the students “hunched down over their notebooks and began writing messages to Mayor Kenney as fast as they could."
“As their friends and campmates took turns holding my phone to their ear to listen to the mayor’s message and leave voicemails about what they were reading, the kids danced around, hands to their mouths in excitement.”
The messages for the mayor are part of the Read by 4th campaign’s Ring and Read program – just one front in the battle against summer learning loss.
Without assistance, a student can fall back three months of reading skill level every summer, putting them a full year behind by the time they enter fourth grade. Summer learning loss tends to be particularly acute in low-income families, and it is a major cause of the achievement gap between income groups.
The citywide campaign, coordinated by the Free Library, enlisted the mayor’s help.
“Summer reading is so important,” he said in a message to the kids. “And I want to hear what you’re reading."
Abigail Thaker, who heads the Ring and Read campaign, says that more than 150 children have called the mayor so far this summer, summarizing books and saying why they enjoyed them.
All told, the Free Library hopes to have 50,000 children participate in summer programs, each reading at least six books.
The programs include more than 100 summer camps, delivery of books to children’s homes and drop-in programs, and classes at more than 50 library branches.
For full information on summer reading programs, click here.