Pupils riding the reading wave

Manchester Elementary offers a weekly program to keep children interested in books this summer


Seated on a blue rug in the classroom's reading corner, 6-year-old Jasmin Sarabia was all ears as she leaned in closer to hear another of Junie B. Jones' adventures read to her.

This one, Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business, is her favorite so far, she said.

"The mom and dad tell her they have a surprise," Jasmin said. "It's a baby! Junie B. isn't happy."

For Jasmin, books are fun because "you get to learn more things."

For school officials, Manchester Elementary's summer reading program - called "Catch the Summer Reading Wave" - is an opportunity to keep young reading minds from going idle.

Each Thursday afternoon this summer, Jasmin and dozens of other children in kindergarten through third grade spend two hours engaged in activities meant to keep them interested in books.

Several volunteers, including teachers and middle school pupils, read to the children and help them with literacy-based arts and crafts projects.

The volunteers also tutor the children in reading and offer computer activities. Each week, the children check out books from the school's library to read at home until the next week.

The reading program, which runs until Aug. 17, is open to about 60 kids whom the school identified as needing additional summer reading help, plus their siblings.

"It's about not dropping the ball over the summer," said school Principal Bob Mitchell. He said that not only do the nonreading children lose what they learned during the school year, but they also often return reading at an even lower level.

"We've found over the years that, especially with children who may be struggling a bit, if they don't keep involved with reading activities, they get rusty," Mitchell said. "It can take us four to six weeks when school starts to get them caught up."

Manchester Elementary was among 10 schools across Maryland selected this summer to receive a $1,500 grant to support the reading program.

The Center for Summer Learning at the Johns Hopkins University awarded the grants, which were funded by the Verizon Foundation.

The only catch for grant recipients was they had to use the money to give away books and support reading activities Thursday , which had been designated Summer Learning Day.

At Manchester, the day, with its luau theme, marked the midpoint of the school's summer program and was filled with activities to celebrate the children's commitment to reading.

Children read directions Thursday to make leis. Guest readers - including Dr. Lorraine Fulton, the school system's assistant superintendent for instruction, and county Commissioner Dean L. Minnich - then read books to the children.

The children also decorated white paper bags and stuffed them each with eight books of their own choosing.

Judy Wu, a third-grader at Manchester, wrote her name on her bag and drew a huge circle around it. Then she splashed bright squiggly lines in red and blue that radiated from her name. There would be no mistaking whose books were inside the bag.

Stacked in front of her were several Junie B. Jones selections, including Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus.

Judy snickered as she explained why she likes Junie B. Jones and has read several of Barbara Park's books.

"I think it's funny that she does bad stuff, like cut her hair," Judy said.

Meanwhile, Nick Saveleski, a fifth-grader who will attend North Carroll Middle in Hampstead this fall, balanced a stack of books filled with ghost stories - his favorite kind of reading.

"I like haunted stories," Nick said as he surveyed his latest acquistions, including Haunted Animals, Haunted Schools, Haunted Teachers and Haunted Campers, all from Allan Zullo's Haunted Kids series of tales based on, or inspired, by real-life cases.

"I like ghost stories and true stories," Nick said.

He said he also likes summer reading because he has more time to enjoy the stories.

"During school, we usually have just 10 minutes to read," he said. "During the summer, it's much more quiet, and I have more time."

Kim Sauers and Denise Porter, reading specialists at Manchester, helped Mitchell design a program that would be engaging and keep the children coming back for more.

"We want to promote the idea that reading is fun," Sauers said.

Summer Learning Day, she said, also was designed to garner support to continue such programs.

"We're hoping to draw the attention of policymakers to get them to realize that quality summer reading programs are needed for kids," she said. "And it shouldn't have to be grant funded."


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