Three weeks before the start of the school year, new 6th grade students of The Steinway School PS 141 in Astoria received their welcome packages for their new school. In with their package was a postcard telling them what supplies they would need for the year and a last minute book listing for the summers required reading that they were to be tested on in the first week of school. Sound strange? It should. To make matters worse, when these children went to their local Queens Library to obtain the book they were told that there were no copies available and they would be required to buy one either online or outside of Astoria. This summer book famine got me thinking, how many other parents and kids have this problem? The answer is almost every child in NYC.
Queens Mamas reached out to moms, experts, and teachers to get some feedback on summer reading and whether books should be made available to children at no cost. With 12.5% of families in Queens being below the poverty line according to City Data how can those children be expected to read what is required if the school is not making the proper information available?
Tangela Walker-Craft, a former English teacher and Lakeland Parenting Examiner, believes that schools should provide copies of required reading if students are expected to read over the summer. “The only time a parent should have to purchase required reading materials is if a student fails to return a school issued copy. No student should ever be penalized because they can’t pay for school materials. Economically abled people often take things for granted. I have taught kids that actually thought they would have to skip graduation because they did not
have money to pay for a cap and gown for the ceremony. Never should a child have to fail because of a financial issue.”
Apparently libraries have plenty of time to get their act together to provide free summer reading for kids, Maureen Picard Robins Author of Pressures of Teaching and Queens middle school teacher/administrator who assigns summer reading says “We send our reading list out in May so there is plenty of time for the libraries to reserve the books and for the local Barnes and Nobles to stock them.” To make the books more available the school she works with used to have a spring Scholastic book fair and feature many of the summer reading books there. Some schools have
spring Barnes and Noble events as fundraisers and have summer reading lists available then. B & N in Bayside allows teachers to post “wish lists” so there could be extra books purchased by someone or even the PTA for emergency books to keep on hand. “I know the libraries don’t have enough books. That’s something that always surprised me about Bloomberg’s education initiative. You can’t improve city schools without having well stocked libraries that are open a lot. I try to invite our local teen librarian to our school and build that school/library connection. No child should be a stranger in a library or to a school.” When parents reach out to Maureen and cannot find the assigned book or are unable to pay for it she goes to her school and takes them out of the classroom to lend them out “Not every
administrator would do this” she says.
When contacted about the lack of books at the local Astoria Library for the students of The Steinway School PS 141, city council member Peter Valone Jr’s office said “we understand that the burden of book buying should not be on the families and students but because of budget cuts the schools cannot afford to buy these books for every child.”
There is a difference between “required” reading and “suggested” reading according to the NY State Department of Education. The Guidance on Locally Required Summer Reading Assignments says that a school may “distribute suggested summer reading lists, permit extra credit assignments over the summer, or require students to read books over the summer in preparation for discussion after school begins.” However in the case that the reading is required and there are assignments associated with the books, a school must “ensure that they (the books) are reasonably available to all students at no cost. Although a school district may indicate that books may be purchased, students cannot be required to purchase any books.” This begs the question then, where are all of these books available for free?
There are a group of experts who do not believe that summer reading should be required at all. Laurie A. Couture
says ”I don’t believe children should be required to do anything for the public school over the summer. “required summer reading” imposes inappropriately into a child’s private life and private time. So much of a child’s life is regimented and controlled by the public schools already; for the schools to require summer reading during the short time that children have fully to pursue their own interests is unacceptable.” There are many studies
that site the importance of free time and free play in a child’s life.
If your child is required to do summer reading then have some suggestions as to how to take initiative in making this process more affordable and maybe a lilttle more fun the next time around.
Suggestions on how to make summer reading easy and cheap:
Start a book exchange in your neighborhood- Kids and parents can start local book exchanges in their neighborhood. Bring unwanted and already read books to swap amongst friends. This is a super fun activity and can encourage an enjoyment of reading.
Book Fairs- Encourage your school to have a book fair during the year and list summer reading material so that kids can purchase the books for less. This also acts as a fundraiser for the school which is win win.
Donate your book- This year, make an effort to recycle your child’s summer reading material by donating it to your local library. This way you will be doing your part to help other kids have access to what your child did not.
If you must buy, buy used- Audrey RL Wyatt, author of the award-winning novel, Poles Apart suggests “What I do is order the books from www.abebooks.com, which accesses stock from used bookstores around the world. I never pay very much for the books. It’s not a perfect solution, but it has served me through two daughters and a lot of junior high and high school summer reads”.