“Turn off the TV and open a book!” NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia urged a sea of red-and-white stovepipe-hatted children at the Orlando Public Library on Wednesday morning. “When you go back to school this fall, you’ll be a little bit smarter. Reading a book exercises your brain!”
All across the Orlando area on this 4th of July week, children are sparking their curiosity and setting off fireworks of imagination — by opening books and exercising their brains. NEA has partnered with the Orange County Library System to hold read-ins at all 14 branch locations for the first-ever “Read Across Orlando.”
The kick-off event at the downtown Orlando Public Library on Wednesday included more than 200 elementary-age students and NEA President Eskelsen Garcia, not to mention Dr. Seuss’s famous feline Cat in the Hat and his enigmatic characters Thing 1 and Thing 2.
Many working-class families find it challenging to pay for enriching summer programs, Eskelsen Garcia noted, “but a reading card at a library is free for everyone. That’s one of the driving forces why NEA joined the Orange County Library System to launch ‘Read Across Orlando.’ It’s one way we can help fight the widening achievement gaps that can happen when school’s out.”
Summer reading is instrumental in fighting “summer reading slump,” the cumulative loss of reading skills that too many students, especially from low-income families, experience during the extended break from school. In fact, more than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income students can be explained by unequal access. To summer learning opportunities, according to a 2007 report from the National Summer Learning Association.
“My students will lose half a grade-level over the summer, if they don’t read,” said Kandie McDaniel, a NEA Read Across America board member and middle-school teacher from western Kentucky, who along with dozens of other NEA members from around the country assisted the children in writing stories and sharing them with their friends.
With the importance of summer literacy in mind, NEA holds a Read Across America event each summer in the city hosting its Representative Assembly and Annual Meeting. This year, for its 153rd annual meeting, more than 7,000 teachers, education support professionals, and higher-ed faculty and staff are together in Orlando.
“We are thrilled to welcome kids to the library for this special reading event,” said Mary Anne Hodel, Orange County Library System CEO. “It is essential to keep children reading over the summer so they will not fall victim to the summer slide.”
NEA’s Read Across America, now in its 18th year, is an award-winning reading program that draws more than 45 million people — young and old — to participate annually in thousands of schools and communities. Past celebrity participants include First Lady Michelle Obama, Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman, and tennis superstar Serena Williams.