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GUEST COMMENTARY: Thank you, Rotary, for the reading program funds

March 10, 2016
By LAURA COFFIN - LPES Reading Specialist , Lake Placid News

My name is Laura Coffin, and I am the reading specialist at the Lake Placid Elementary School. Prior to being the reading specialist, I taught fourth grade for six years at LPES.

Teaching reading is my passion, and I absolutely love my job. When I took this position eight years ago, I began to really dive into helping our most struggling students with reading. These students had trouble learning to read, and my job was to help them crack the reading code.

I started to notice a trend. Students would show great growth during the school year but would go home for summer vacation and for some reason would never touch a book.

Why? Why couldn't they just find a book?

As a very young child, I struggled with reading, but I was constantly surrounded by books. I started to think, what about those kids who were not surrounded by books? What did they do during the summer? How did they get materials to read?

In my previous job in the Boston suburbs, I helped start a program with Barnes and Noble bookstores. They donated books for our students to take home and keep over the summer. I started to wonder if it would work here with our students in Lake Placid and Wilmington.

When Randy Quayle approached me a few years ago and asked if I would like some money for reading, I knew this was my chance. I created a list of books that seemed interesting to students and asked for input from the classroom teachers. Everyone was excited about it, so I placed a call to Scholastic.

It was less than ideal! Most of the books arrived the afternoon after all the students left for summer vacation. I was left with about a hundred books and no students! I spent that summer driving around town and giving the books to the kids I saw at the store, beach, park and summer school. I drove to parents' places of business and had friends deliver books. I figured I had learned my lesson; you have to start much earlier, and you have to stay local.

Then I got really smart. I partnered with The Bookstore Plus, and Sarah and Marc Galvin helped me ensure that all the books arrived on time and everyone got what they needed for the summer. The past three summers have been quite successful. I enter the classrooms on the last week of school, followed by a few teaching assistants all lugging huge boxes of books.

Kids cheer! Are those our summer books? What do we get this year? I have had parents comment on my Facebook page how much they appreciate your donation of books. You have made this possible. So for your support over the past few years, I thank you.

I have been reading some research on "summer slide" and how important it is to combat it. Summer slide is not the fun green twisty thing at the playground. It is the drop in reading levels during the summer months due to a lack of reading. Based on the reading assessments given in the fall and spring at LPES, 95 percent of our students experience some sort of summer slide. Some are only a few levels, but a few are a half a year or more.

It's kind of like not skiing for a long time and trying to pick it up again. You left the mountain last season flying down Skyward, and since you didn't ski in the off-season, you find yourself on the Bear Chair trying to remember how to turn.

The same thing happens with students and reading.

Imagine a student at the beginning of the year who didn't turn one page over the summer. He is trying to remember all the skills he learned last year to read and understand, but he can't recall anything because he hasn't practiced. He has to go back to the Bear Chair and start again. Meanwhile, the other kids are picking it up and flying down Skyward in no time, continuing their success where they left off. They soar ahead, and the struggling student tries to catch up.

Why does this happen? Well, if you don't practice over the summer, you have to re-learn what you were taught. Why don't you practice over the summer? Maybe you can't get your hands on the right book. With the money you have given us, the teachers and I ensure that all students have the right book.

Like all good things, there is always room for improvement. This summer I am expanding. With your help, and hopefully the help of at least one other grant I have written, and a program called First Books, we will be able to hand out a whole bag full of books to each child. My goal and dream is to have tables in the gym set up with thousands of books for students to choose. They will each be given a canvas bag and pointed to a group of tables. On those tables will be books at their level, for them to choose. After shopping for books, they will return to their classrooms, where they will find more books. These will be the books they have always received at the end of the year. Hopefully the combination of the two sets of books will have more students turning pages and ready to start school in the fall, at the top of the mountain.

There are currently 280 students in our school, and 40 students in the Pre-K at St. Agnes. Each student will receive between five and 15 books to read over the summer and add to their home library.

On behalf of the faculty and staff and especially the students at Lake Placid Elementary School, thank you for your continued support. With all of us working together, we are raising a generation of great readers!



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