TAMPA — For many Hillsborough County students, summer break means sleeping late, kicking back with video games and hanging out with friends.
But they can’t escape school completely: Chances are any middle or high school student will be required to read at least one book before school starts in August.
As the school year came to a close, teachers at the county’s high schools and some middle schools started thinking about what to assign. Some chose books from a state list, and others who teach advanced courses made their selections from a national College Board list.
Teacher Megan Levin thought back to last fall, when she was thinking her class’ analytical skills could have been stronger.
“I base my summer reading off of the previous year, what I think they’re coming in with, what I think they need to know,” said Levin, who has picked different summer assignments in each of her five years of teaching.
Her incoming Advanced Placement Literature students at Robinson High School will dig into “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” by Thomas C. Foster, as one of two summer assignments. It will teach them how to connect literary concepts to the overall meaning of a story, Levin said.
Last year, “The Great Gatsby” was her second book. This year, Ray Bradbury’s dire tale of a future without books, “Fahrenheit 451.” She says it will show students the importance of literature in society.
“You search for the novels that will help them have those basics so they’re not completely at beginner level,” she said.
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While some teachers switch it up, others have go-to books that they stick to year to year because their students enjoy them and learn from them.
Maureen Pelamati, an AP Language and Composition teacher at Robinson, each year assigns “On Writing,” by best-selling horror and fiction novelist Stephen King.
“It’s a classic,” said Pelamati, who has read the book three or four times. “He gives great advice for aspiring writers. It’s a memoir, and I’m a huge fan of Stephen King’s. He writes some really scary stuff. You find out where these ideas came from. It’s very conversational.”
Her students will turn in a summary of the book on the first day of class.
“Reading is so important, and summertime is the perfect time to read a book, even if it’s not for a school assignment,” Pelamati said. “There are plenty of reading lists out there that schools have provided.”
AP teachers’ course outlines are approved by the national nonprofit College Board each year. Included is summer reading assignments.
Most of the county’s high schools and some middle schools have summer reading requirements posted on their websites. Hillsborough elementary pupils typically aren’t assigned summer reading.
Youngsters in pre-K through eighth grade have year-round access to a digital library of about 4,000 books called Read on myON, first offered in 2010.
At the time, it drew some complaints from parents who said graphic material was available to younger students. Some books are now blocked to elementary students.
“It’s very popular, especially at the elementary level,” said John Milburn, Hillsborough’s supervisor of K-5 library media services.
Some elementary teachers offer incentives for students who read a designated number of books in the summer, and the school district provides suggested reading lists for all grades to encourage families to resist the “summer slide,” when children often forget some of what they have learned.
Studies have shown children can lose more than two months of learning during summer break, forcing teachers to spend precious instructional time on catch-up.
“It’s just something to get them started,” Milburn said. “We want kids to read. Summer is finally that one time they get to read whatever they want.”
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Annie Aguiar, a 15-year-old rising sophomore at Hillsborough High School, said reading assignments can be boring but she doesn’t mind doing them. She says it’s a good idea to keep kids reading during summer. Plus, she enjoys reading.
“All the books we’ve read have been very good books, but just so dry,” she said. “But what are you going to do? Without summer work, I would spend these three months doing absolutely nothing and sleeping in all day. At least some time will be devoted to getting back into the whole education routine.”
Aguiar will tackle a few reading assignments this summer: 15 chapters of “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” for her English class and “The Prince,” by Niccolò Machiavelli, the 16th century political work, for her AP European History class. She also will delve into some passages from the textbook.
She started the first book for a class last school year and is looking forward to reading more of it.
“It was such an interesting book that I actually wanted to finish reading the rest of it right then and there,” she said.
At Williams Middle Magnet School, all incoming seventh-graders are required to read two novels: “Son of a Gun” by Anne deGraaf and a book of their choice from the 2014-15 Sunshine State Young Readers Award list.
Just one week into summer break, Christie Wallace, 11, is almost done with “Endangered,” by Eliot Schrefer, a novel about a young girl who visits her mother at her sanctuary for pygmy chimpanzees called bonobos, in Africa’s Democratic Republic of the Congo. She ends up befriending a bonobo and fighting for her life amidst a revolution.
“I got it done early,” Christie said. “Reading is my favorite subject.”