MPS kicks off summer-reading campaign

Students at Hmong International Academy get stickers to put on their new books during a book fair on May 22.

Minneapolis Public Schools kicked off its summer-reading campaign Tuesday with an event at Hmong International Academy.

Students at the pre-K-8 school in the Jordan neighborhood picked out books to take home and keep, courtesy of the nonprofit Start Reading Now. Minneapolis Superintendent Ed Graff noted multiple district and community efforts to keep students engaged over the summer, from book giveaways to celebrity readings.

“It’s so important that we give students opportunities to read,” Graff said, encouraging the community to get behind the idea of reading.

“It’s the bedrock of all learning,” he added.

The event came 17 days before the start of summer vacation, during which students can lose learning and reading skills they develop during the school year. Research notes how the “summer slide” is especially pronounced among low-income students, many of whom don’t have access to many books at home.

Start Reading Now co-founder and Southwest Minneapolis resident Kevin Terrell noted research from Florida that showed how providing students with books over the summer has a positive impact on their achievement in reading. He said such research compelled him and co-founder Pam Longfellow, also a Southwest resident, to start the program in 2014.

Start Reading Now works in schools where at least 50 percent of the students qualify for free and/or reduced lunch, providing students in grades 1-3 with 10 books apiece. The organization plans on providing over 5,000 MPS students with books this year.

At Tuesday’s book fair, students picked out books dealing with everything from ninjas to zombies to kittens and puppies. Students “paid” for the books with a $50 Start Reading Now voucher. They also received “this book belongs to” stickers and a drawstring backpacking to carry their new books.

“There’s no downside to kids having 10 books,” Terrell said.

Start Reading Now has raised about $500,000 for its program, Terrell said, noting its low overhead costs. Atomic Data has provided the program with about $200,000, allowing it to function as a standalone nonprofit.

The Lynne and Andrew Redleaf and Roger and Nancy McCabe foundations are also among those that have given the organization support, Terrell said.

Jim Wolford, CEO and owner of Atomic Data, noted the access his own children have to books and said he wanted to make sure that other kids had access, too. Longfellow told a story of a third-grader at a recent book fair at Bancroft Elementary School who received books. The student picked out 10 books relating to sharks and told Longfellow that he wants to be a marine biologist when he grows up.

Graff said the idea of putting a book in every child’s hand is powerful. He said he hopes the district can give students opportunities to understand that power and provide kids with enriching experiences throughout the community.

MPS has a list online of events during which students can receive books for no cost. Additionally, the MPS summer-reading page features other events and activities and tips for making summer reading fun for kids. They include: letting kids pick out books; reading together; and asking your child questions.