The Power of Books

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Page Ahead visitThe following article was sent out in my City View Newsletter, which you can sign up to receive here.

Wednesday I traveled to Emerson Elementary in the Rainier Beach neighborhood because they have partnered with Page Ahead to provide free book fairs to kindergartners, 1st and 2nd graders. Excited students got to browse a collection of picture and chapter books and choose their 12 favorites to take home at the end of the school year. It was a lot of fun.

Students participate in this program for three consecutive years, ensuring three full summers of reading.

It is a great program because it is so simple: summer reading prevents summer learning loss. Kids will read when they have easy access to books they’re interested in. But too many low-income households don’t have this access. A recent report from Stanford found that, by age 2, children from low-income families are six months behind kids in higher-income families when it comes to vocabulary knowledge.

Late last year my office heard about this free annual book fair model from a rigorous study conducted at 17 high-poverty elementary schools in Florida. After three years, the students randomly assigned to participate in the annual book fairs increased their reading level by 35-40% of a grade level when compared to their peers who did not receive the intervention.

We wanted to replicate this study in Seattle, but after chasing down a tip from the Library we learned that Page Ahead was, well, a page ahead of us. They started their program in 2012 with funding from private donations and small contributions from schools. This year it is serving eight schools from low-income neighborhoods for a total of 1,200 students. If other classes are like the Emerson class I observed, that makes for a lot of motivated readers!

The chart below from Page Ahead shows the difference in students who met the 3rd grade reading standards between the first cohort to benefit from the three-year intervention and the cohort from the year before. It shows promising results: all five Seattle schools that started in the program’s first year saw significant growth in the number of students who meet the reading standards, especially when compared to the citywide numbers.

Page Ahead data

The City’s Families and Education Levy, approved by voters in 2011, provides health services and academic support programs in Seattle Public Schools. I will continue to work on how the City can offer further assistance and funding to evidence-based programs such as these annual book fairs; many more schools in our District could benefit from them in the years to come.

As I’ve written before in this newsletter, overwhelming research demonstrates the power of investing early in our children. From the Nurse-Family Partnership to the Seattle Preschool Program (starting this September!) to the Families and Education Levy, Seattle is making wise investments in our future.