SUMMER READING is more than just a chance to plow through the novels of Jack London or Laura Ingalls Wilder.
For many children, it’s a time to think, ponder and imagine in a setting far from the pressures of school or the distractions of extracurricular activities. Research has shown that summer reading is time well spent: Young people who read during the summers are less likely to forget the things they learn in school the year before and are more likely to strengthen skills they need for the next grade level. The problem is that not all children have books or time to read, and those from economically challenged backgrounds typically come back from summers less prepared than their privileged counterparts. Worse, they’re often unable to catch up.
Officially known as the “Read and Roll Bus,” it signals its arrival to neighborhood children with friendly music — as an ice cream truck does, but in this case with a Black Eyed Peas song edited with more literary lyrics. Read and Roll is a former school bus for the disabled that has been refitted with shelves and nearly 2,000 donated books. Throughout the past few months, volunteers have been driving the same route between 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Children can take up to three books at a time, and volunteers help them select titles appropriate to their reading levels.
The Read and Roll Bus may not be the ultimate answer to closing the skills gap that starts to emerge along class lines every summer. But it’s an improvised, practical and sustainable solution that could make a difference in the long term. Children from lower-income families who don’t live near public libraries are less likely to make their way to a library, and other book buses could bring the books to the kids instead of expecting the kids to find the books. Other school districts might consider the Read and Roll model.