Mail affects reading program

Some parents received letters only last week on summer assignments

July 24, 2002|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

It is never too late to start summer reading - at least that seems to be the belief of city school administrators who mailed letters that many parents received just last week informing them that their children are expected to read six books this summer.

In a letter dated July 9, Chief Academic Officer Cassandra W. Jones wrote that information about the school system's summer reading program was held up by "mail delays that prevented many schools from receiving the reading packets in time for students to take them home" before the end of the school year.

Since the letters arrived, parents have been dutifully filing into public libraries, asking the children's librarians for the required-reading list and grumbling about the late notice from the school system.

In an interview yesterday afternoon, Jones denied that the school system was late in getting information out to parents. She said schools had the packets available for children who attended the last day of school.

"I understand that some [parents] said they didn't receive them," Jones said.

The July 9 letter that parents received did not include the list of 15 books from which schoolchildren are supposed to choose. Instead, it directed parents to three places they could find the list: their neighborhood school, a Web site ( us/students/summer_list/index. html) and the public library. In addition, students are supposed to fill out a form listing the books they have read as well as a second sheet that asks students questions about each book they have read.

The most recent letter began arriving at homes a week ago. Almost immediately, several librarians said, a steady stream of parents and children began visiting the branches, asking for the lists. After parents began inquiring about the list, the Enoch Pratt Library asked the school system for the information and received the lists electronically, said Ellen Riordan, the Pratt's children services coordinator. The list was sent to all the branches, but they did not have full packets that included the questionnaires until yesterday.

Reisterstown Road branch librarian Charlotte Young said the first to arrive were middle schoolers and their parents. Young said parents were frustrated that the list had not been released sooner. Librarians said they helped parents copy the report forms and assisted children in picking out books that were appropriate for their reading level.

"The obvious concern is: Why was the list sent to parents so late?" said Michael Hamilton, president of the city's Council of PTAs. Hamilton, who has two children in city schools, said he received his letter last week.

Hamilton is concerned that some children, particularly those middle and high schoolers who aren't avid readers, may have difficulty finishing six books by Sept. 3, the day school starts.

Hamilton fully supports the concept, though. "I think it is an excellent initiative, especially for children who aren't involved in summer school or camp," he said.

Riordan, of the Pratt, played down the problem of getting the lists so late. "The point is that you want children reading during the summer, and there are many vehicles to do that," she said.

The library has held its summer reading club again this year, with a suggested reading list for different ages as well as prizes for children who read eight books.

Riordan encourages parents not to force children who are reluctant readers into reading because they probably won't get much out of it. She suggests that parents read to those children out loud, even if they don't get all the books read this summer.

Librarians have said that not all the books on the school system's list are available at the Pratt but that they have been told that children can substitute books by the same authors on the list.

Jones defended the school system's handling of the summer reading program, saying that students who attended summer school - about 29,000 - were given the reading list information at school. She also said that the Pratt had been given the reading lists and the packets two or three weeks ago.

The letter that was sent to parents last week, she said, was only sent in case some children had not received the information. "We have been responsible," Jones said.

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