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Child Literacy Program Launches Summer Book Exchange


     An effort is under way in one western Massachusetts city to get young children to pick up a book, or two, before they head back to school in a few weeks. 

    A new bookmobile is visiting selected sites of the Springfield Public Schools’ summer food service program, where families have access to free breakfast and lunch. Now, children will be able to pick out a book and exchange it for a new one at a subsequent visit.  At the end of the summer program each child will be able to pick out a book to keep.

   The book exchange is the latest initiative by Springfield’s Reading Success by 4th Grade, a nationally-honored community campaign to improve early child literacy.  Executive director Sally Fuller said the program at the summer meals sites is part of a concerted effort to combat the phenomenon known as summer learning loss.

  " Summer learning loss is very real and for disadvantaged kids it is even more real because they often don't catch up, " said Fuller. 

  The books for the program were selected by child development specialists. The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care is helping to distribute the books at the summer meal sites.

" We are doing this for the first time and we would like to give at least 2,000 books out so that every child will have at least one, " said Fuller.

   She  praised the behavioral health agency Brightside for Families and Children for purchasing the books and Pride Stores, which retrofitted a delivery van as the bookmobile.

Mark Paglia, director of outpatient services for Brightside, said the agency has about 75 children in Springfield as clients.

" We recognize the importance of academics. We recognize that literacy is an important part of the success of a child," said Paglia.

Bob Bolduc, the owner of Pride Stores, said in addition to supplying the bookmobile he is also providing the driver.

" And we are keeping it simple. We are not bothering with a sign out or anything like that. It is on the honor system and we are teaching the kids that also," said Bolduc.

Springfield Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick said the book exchange program goes hand-in-hand with the five-week summer school program.

  " We are running the largest summer school we have every run, because this summer learning loss issue is a real issue in the urban centers. So, we are being proactive and offering more summer school opportunities for our kids," said Warwick.

   Third graders attending summer school in the Springfield Public Schools each received a book to take home.

  Only 40 percent of Springfield’s children read at grade level by the end of 3rd grade, but that is an improvement over the 28 percent reading proficiency six years ago when the reading success project launched.

The local effort is part of a national grade-level reading campaign to increase the number of children who have mastered reading by the time they enter fourth grade.  Research has shown that reading proficiency by the end of third grade is a critical predictor of future academic success.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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