- Associated Press - Saturday, May 24, 2014

OWENSBORO, Ky. (AP) - With 66 percent of Kentucky’s fourth-graders not able to read at that grade level, Owensboro Public Schools is launching a new Owensboro READS program on Thursday that’s designed to encourage elementary students - and their families - to spend more time reading this summer.

“We’re excited about it,” Superintendent Nick Brake said Wednesday. “We’ve been working on it since last fall.”

The district created a Literacy Task Force with both educators and community members to find a way to improve reading skills in the district.

Janie Moseley, Foust principal, is co-chairwoman of the task force.

“Reading difficulties go across all income levels,” she said. “But they’re more prevalent among lower-income families.”

The ideas that are being adopted include summer reading contests, reading camps and a community-wide reading campaign - Owensboro READS.

The campaign has a new website, owensbororeads.com, which includes information about the program and such things as finding ways to access free books online.

The idea, Brake said, is “for kids to be successful as they move on in school. We need to help those who aren’t around the written word as much as the other students.”

Friday is the last day of school for city students.

The new program is being launched this week to encourage students to read this summer and avoid what’s called the “summer slide.”

The U.S. Department of Education says, “On average, students lose the equivalent of two months of math and reading skills during the summer months. More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.”

Brake said Owensboro READS is partnering with the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro to launch a long-term effort to increase literacy for both children and adults.

The foundation approved a grant of $100,000 to the city schools to develop a summer reading program.

Plans call for a six-week camp focusing on raising reading levels for 80 second-graders.

“There will be a lot of other activities too,” Brake said.

Moseley said two camp sessions are planned at Foust - June 9-26 and July 7-24.

“Camp Superpower” will host the same 80 children at both sessions.

“It will have primarily a literary focus,” Moseley said. “We’ll be focusing on animal superpowers. There will be a lot of nonfiction reading and a field trip to Kentucky Down Under” near Horse Cave.

Students attending the camp will come from all five city elementary schools.

Each student will spend 30 minutes a day with a reading specialist.

“With the grant, we’re able to staff the camps so we’ll have a lot of student-teacher interaction,” Moseley said. “The students will be able to take home at least 15 books during the summer.”

The city schools initiative also includes a 30-Minutes-a-Day Challenge to encourage everyone in the community to read more this summer.

And there’s a summer scavenger hunt that encourages students to read for clues.

“It’s open to all kindergarten through fifth-grade students,” Moseley said of the scavenger hunt. “There are a lot of fun reading activities they can do at home or in the community. If they complete all of it, they’ll get prizes and be eligible for the grand prize in each school - a Kindle Fire.”

Brake said the Daviess County Public Library and the H.L. Neblett Center are also working on reading programs as part of the initiative.

The library’s program is called Fueling the Mind.

It expands the summer reading program through a collaboration with the Kentucky Department of Education’s Summer Food Service Program.

The goal is to provide free meals along with literacy programming to keep at-risk school-age students 18 and younger, nourished, reading and learning all summer.

It will be offered June 1-July 31.

The library used a $9,396 grant to fund the hiring of five part-time employees to staff the program. Lunch and literacy services will be offered at three elementary schools, one church, one housing complex and four community sites.

“We are excited for the opportunity to take our summer reading programs on the road and to introduce more children to the library and the love of reading,” program coordinator Shannon Sandefur said in a news release.

“We want to send elementary school students to middle school, reading at grade level,” Brake said of the various programs planned this summer.

Currently, about two-thirds are reading at their grade level by the time they reach middle school, he said.

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