About 18 second- and third-grade students brimming with curiosity trickled through the media center at Hmong International Academy in north Minneapolis Tuesday, ready to receive free books.
“My sister has this book,” one student told her friend.
“My aunt has this book, too,” the friend said.
With the school year coming to an end, Minneapolis Public Schools kicked off its summer reading campaign Tuesday with a free book fair for students. The campaign is part of a larger effort to prevent kids from slipping into what educators call the “summer slide,” a phenomenon in which students lose academic ground over the summer.
Each student received a $50 voucher thanks to the nonprofit “Start Reading Now” to buy 10 books of their choice.
Superintendent Ed Graff, surrounded by leaders of the Minneapolis Foundation and other local organizations, said he recently read an article that highlighted the challenge of the summer slide. The best advice in the article was to give students daily opportunities to read, he said.
“I really want to encourage everyone to really get behind this idea of reading,” Graff said. “It’s the bedrock of all learning. It applies to writing, it applies to mathematics and science.”
To expand student enrichment and access to books, district officials are launching reading activities and events around the city, including at places of worship, through the Boys and Girls Club and at local parks and recreation centers. Graff also urged students to use public libraries if they couldn’t find the books they liked at the reading events. Last summer, district officials joined the Minneapolis Park Board and other local organizations to open 50 new free little libraries in parks or at recreation centers to support reading experiences.
Graff said that improving literacy rates was his top priority, and the district has rolled out new reading materials in pre-K through fifth-grade classrooms for the first time in a decade.
In 2017, 43 percent of Minneapolis public school students met or exceeded standards for reading, according to the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments. State education leaders are pushing for students to read at or above grade level by the end of third grade. Currently, just more than half of all Minnesota third-graders are reading proficiently.
Teacher Sheng Yang, who keenly watched her second-grade students show off their book selections at the fair, said all of her students are vulnerable to the summer slide, which could hurt their academic performance at the beginning of the next school year.
“I have been here for four years, and this is the first time I have seen this,” Yang said about the free book fair. “All of these students don’t have books at home.”