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WATERLOO — Some of what students have learned this year will be lost over the summer months as they take a break from classes and homework.

Lou Henry Elementary School has found an effective way to combat this “summer slide,” though, at least when it comes to reading ability. Students are given some new books they choose themselves to read during the months away from school.

It started with second-graders in the spring of 2017 and expanded to all kindergarten through fifth-graders a year ago. Ann Thomas, the school’s technology integrationist, and lead teacher Danielle Hakeman tracked proficiency on spring and fall reading assessments.

They found 74 percent of the original second-graders maintained or improved their reading level in the fall of 2017. A year later, 88 percent of the 370 students returning to Lou Henry had maintained or improved their reading level.

“That’s a pretty huge deal. We’re seeing that it works,” said Thomas. She noted that national statistics show students typically lose three months of their previous year’s learning during the summer.

“This is really their opportunity to continue building learning for the summer,” said Hakeman.

This week, Lou Henry’s nearly 500 students spent time in the media center picking out the books as the school again strives to combat summer learning loss. The school will hold onto the books until sending them home with kids about a week before classes end in early June.

Each year, Thomas and Hakeman have been able to successfully write grants or find other funding sources to pay for the books. The current effort went forward thanks to a $12,000 grant from the Max and Helen Guernsey Foundation.

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“Which equals $24,000, really,” said Thomas, since book publisher Scholastic has a “buy one, get one free” deal underway. Students were invited to pick out $25 worth of books, which grew to as much as $50 with the match. Depending on grade level, that could buy between four and 10 books.

A calendar is sent home so children and their parents can track reading minutes, with the possibility of winning a prize in the fall.

“We give them a guideline,” said Thomas. “Twenty minutes a day is pretty standard.”

Students in a third-grade class looked through the shelves and tables of books Wednesday morning. Mylee Hummel found a couple books and was searching for more.

“I wanted one of these,” she said of “Lea Dives In,” an American Girl book. “But I just found this and wanted it because it looks interesting,” added Hummel of “The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart.”

Amar Cantarevic had a stack of six books and was listing the cost of each, ranging from $4.99 to $8.99. He was particularly interested in the 208-page “Hello Neighbor: Waking Nightmare.” “I wanted this one because it’s a chapter book,” he noted.

Anthony Howard had picked out two books from the “Wimpy Kid” series — which he has never read — and another from the “I Survived” series — which he has read — among his choices. Howard was looking for more possibilities, so Thomas took him to a table with graphic novels and he picked out “Glitch.” But he was now spending too much and traded one of the “Wimpy Kid” books for two cheaper options, which got him right to $50.

Thomas pointed out that getting the books into the homes has an effect beyond the individual child, particularly if the students have siblings.

“The best thing about this is we’re building home libraries,” she said.

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Courier

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