EAST ORANGE, NJ – Summer vacation has officially arrived. Unfortunately for students, among the pleasures of summer, the phenomenon of the “summer slide” lurks. Studies show that children lose important reading and math skills during the summer holidays – about two months of reading skills and 2.6 months of math skills – which tends to have a snowball effect. snow because they experience a subsequent loss of skills each year, leading to a decrease in reading and math proficiency.
Yukima Vannoy, East Orange School District‘s Secondary English Language Arts Supervisor for Years 6-12, was motivated to change that for educational and personal reasons.
“Even though my mother was an avid reader, as a child I struggled to read,” Vannoy said. “It took a teacher to develop my self-confidence, a teacher to make me love books. Books have become a way for me to escape and travel the world in my head.
As early as 2017, Vannoy and English Language Elementary Arts Supervisor Bridgett Green began working to combat the summer slide. The Department of English Language Arts’ Top Readers with Frequency initiative encouraged reading across all content areas.
“Originally, we wanted to celebrate students who were immersing themselves in reading and enjoying reading,” Vannoy said. “We also wanted to fight the summer slide and work to close the achievement gap. Improving reading has an impact on student achievement in all areas. It also reduces the need for teachers to repeat prior content.
According to Vannoy, moving the initiative forward took patience and perseverance.
“The struggle was to get students to read every day,” she said.
In 2019, Vannoy and Green hosted the “1st Summer Reading Launch Party,” which brought together students, their families, and the community at large, advancing reading and celebrating students.
As the initiative grew, the district adopted Learning Ally, an audiobook program that helped track student progress.
“The program allowed us to capture data. It was clear from the data that students were buying the reading,” Vannoy said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic halted the momentum of the program. “We had to find other ways to celebrate students. So instead, we started a book club.
As New Jersey emerges from the height of the pandemic and to kick off summer vacation this year, Vannoy and Green hosted the 2nd Summer Reading Launch Party. The event, themed ‘One World, Many Stories’, introduced students to some of the world’s most widely read children’s books, including ‘I am Malala’ by Malala Yousafzai and the ‘Harry Potter’ series. by JK Rowling. Samples of student work related to literacy were also on display.
More than 350 parents, caregivers, students, school administrators and community members gathered on the Glenwood campus for the event.
Attendees enjoyed DJ music, a performance by the Whitney E. Houston Academy Marching Band, local authors, vendors, food truck operators, free t-shirts, fire and police departments, a BBQ, bouncy houses, games, prizes and an award presentation honoring top readers with gift certificates.
According to Vannoy and Green, “The event was strongly anchored by the efforts of Councilman Bergson Leneus. We couldn’t have done this without him. He was instrumental in fundraising and securing donors. With his help, we raised $20,000.
At the event, Leneus was called to the stage and presented with a trophy.
“We don’t do this for recognition but for the love of the children and our city,” Leneus said. “It’s the passion of my life. It touches my heart to receive this award. Thanks for the recognition.
“I hope a child finds a book, hears my voice, and connects with our message,” Vannoy said at the end of the event.
Photos and text courtesy of Mirvetk Tonuzi