During middle school, I had the most amazing English AIG teacher. Most of my love of reading and much of my writing and critical thinking skills can be traced back to Ms. Hooper. I had classes with her all three years, and we were continuously reading books in her class, in groups, on our own and as a class. Each summer, she gave us a three or four page list of books that we didn’t get to read during the school year, but that she would recommend. She also gave us a sheet upon which she encouraged us to record all of the books that we read.
The summer between my 7th and 8th grade year my best friend and I raced to see who could read the most books.We each read about 25 novels over the course of the summer. We quickly exhausted our supply of books that we had not read at our respective houses (even with trades), so our parents took turns taking us to libraries and bookstores. If a read was especially good, we would just give it to the other person, and eagerly await them to finish so that we could discuss it with each other.
Her mom worked as a substitute teacher, so she was always willing to pick me up from my house during the summer so that the two of us could drive to the library with the best young adult section, which was a 20 minutes drive from my house, and even just to come over to their house, sit on the floor, and read with my best friend.
It was a very nerdy summer, but a very enjoyable one. I came back to school with lots of adventures still floating around my head and pride in my lengthy reading log. Academically speaking, I found myself reading far above my grade level (whatever that means), utilizing a larger vocabulary, and able to complete class work at an even faster pace than I had done previously. Teachers got into the habit of letting me speed through class work and then silently reading in the corner while I waited for peers to finish.
Three things made that summer possible and productive.
First, I had teacher support and guidance from the amazing Ms. Hooper.
Second, I had parents and other adults making sure that I had continuous access to books, despite the economic costs of my curiosity.
Third, I had a peer to discuss, and think critically about, books with.
But I attended a school with mostly low-income students, who were not in AIG, didn’t necessarily have parents who could afford to take them to the library that frequently, and might not have been able to walk or drive to their favorite nerdy friend’s house.
I looked forward to every summer as a chance to get back to reading, relax, and maybe attend the occasional summer camp. Every year I got better and better at reading and engaging with texts over those warm summer months, while some of peers struggled to gain access to new reading material.
According to the reading rockets website, “on average, children from low-income families lose nearly three months of grade-level equivalency during the summer months each year, compared to an average of one month lost by middle-income children when reading and math performance are combined.”
The summer break was initially created to cater to families who needed their students as farm hands during peak harvest time. Now, the summer break serves as a magnifier of the achievement gap. The logic and fairness of this set-up need to be reassessed.