Kids in the Puget Sound region are counting down the days until summer vacation, but one middle school librarian in West Seattle has been working all year to try to get students to spend some of that time reading.
Denny International Middle School Librarian Jeff Treistman conceived the “Home Library Project” as a way to counteract what educators refer to as the "summer slide." That's when lower-income kids lose ground academically compared with kids from more well-to-do backgrounds who have access to more enriching activities during the vacation.
Kids from families with fewer resources “don’t have the books. Their parents don’t buy books. They don’t go to bookstores. They don’t take them to the library. They don’t go on interesting vacations and the more affluent kids get all that,” Treistman said.
There are a lot of students at risk for summer slide at Denny. More than two-thirds of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Treistman decided to write grants and fundraise online so that he could send each sixth grader home with a stack of free books.
“As I started back in September, I saw nothing but green lights. Everyone said, `That’s great. How can I help you?’” he said.
Donations of books and money flowed in, and this week, it’s all become real. He’s got boxes of books ready for kids to choose from: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Smile, Auggie and Me. He also has comic books through a partnership with Comics Dungeon in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood.
Each student will get at least seven books, and kids who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will get to pick out about six or seven more books from the Scholastic Book Fair and take them home for free.
Treistman said it’s important to give students the freedom to choose what they want to read.
“I’ll come across a situation where the kid’s response is `I hate reading.’ `What’s going on?’ `Well, I just hate reading,’” he said. “So after research and questioning these kids, it comes around to: `Well, I hate reading the things that you’re telling me to read.’ It doesn’t mean they hate reading at all.”
Treistman plans to track whether having access to books at home helps stem the summer slide. But he’s aiming for something more: He wants to see students who get joy from curling up with a good book.