BLOWING ROCK — On July 23, Blowing Rock Elementary School announced the launch of a summer reading program, which began in June, to “stop the summer slide” and keep children reading during the summer months.

BRES received two grants, one from Dollar General Stores Inc. and one from the Boone-based company ECRS, that provided funds to create innovative reading bins for every student entering first or second grade. The total grant funding for this project totals $6,000.

Each student was assigned a bin containing sets of books specially chosen by the reading specialist at the school for that student’s individual ability.

The little books feature a variety of engaging stories that gradually increase in difficulty with each new level. Fifteen books at each level, totaling 45 books per bin, were provided to each student. These books are designed for schools to lift young readers and are not marketed to parents.

“I’ve used these well-crafted books to teach young readers for several years as the BRES early intervention tutor,” Kathy Newton, a school reading specialist, said. “Why not get them into homes?”

Early readers have a hard time learning on their own, and if they’re out of school for weeks or months, they may even forget some of what they’ve learned. This is particularly true for rising first-graders, whose “sight vocabulary” acquired from reading books needs reinforcement from continuous reading practice.

Families picked up their bins in June and July at BRES, to keep and use until their child has progressed through that bin. At that point they will trade for another bin at a higher level.

Bins can be used during the school year even though they are separate from the regular school curriculum. They also contain word cards and phonics activities, as well as instructions for a parent, older sibling or other helper who may be assisting.

School staff who packed the bins wore masks and gloves to prevent the spread of germs, and bins were left for a sitting period before being distributed.

“We take safety very seriously,” said reading specialist Laurie Gill.

BRES Principal Patrick Sukow said, “Maybe this program will be adopted by other county schools if it’s successful. A pandemic calls for flexibility and new ideas. We don’t want our kids to fall behind where they ought to be. If school closures continue, it could become a serious problem.”

“We couldn’t have done this without these donors,” said Gill. “We think it could make a big difference in our children’s achievement this year, and going forward. It’s not easy to catch up once you’re behind; we hope to prevent that.”

Families without a child attending BRES that are interested in accessing the same books featured in the bins can contact the Blowing Rock Community Library and the Watauga County Library to check out a bag of about 10 titles at any early reading level, following the “guided reading” A-Z leveling system.

These libraries’ Little Reader book bags are the result of funding from a local Blowing Rock church and Dollar General.

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