SEMINOLE — When schools Superintendent Michael Grego introduced his ambitious plan for the summer months at the end of the academic year, Pinellas County school officials wondered how the district would handle the capacity.
But his big plan for summer reading programs had big results, said Bonnie Kelley, the school district’s supervisor of library media and technology. Roughly 9,000 students participated in reading programs during the Summer Bridge summer school and countless others were engaged in self-directed reading programs at home, a far cry from the 700 in last summer’s third-grade reading camps. In one program, students from 57 elementary and middle schools logged nearly 479,000 minutes spent reading — nearly 333 days.
“For this being our first year, we were floored by our participation, especially since we pulled this all together fairly quickly,” Kelley said.
Pinellas students could benefit from extra reading time, which parlays into better academic performance, Kelley said. This year’s third-grade reading scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, released in May, were flat in Pinellas County and across the state.
Statewide, 57 percent of third-graders received a 3 (satisfactory) or higher on the reading portion of the FCAT. Last year, 56 percent hit that mark; in 2011, 57 percent made a satisfactory grade or better. Pinellas third-graders this year were 1 percentage point behind the state average in reading, the same as last year. But those numbers were below the Pinellas third-graders’ score of 74 percent in 2011.
To keep students reading during the summer, elementary and middle schools were enrolled in the Scholastic Summer Challenge: Read for the World Record, in which they logged minutes spent reading at home each day in an online program that rewarded top readers and schools with books and games. Gulfport Elementary Montessori Academy logged 153,836 minutes, which ranked it 129th out of more than 4,000 participating schools throughout the world, a big feat for the school district’s first year entering the competition, Kelley said.
Elementary students also earned prizes and up to $500 for their school through the district’s Ticket to Read program, an online computer game in which students are taught vocabulary lessons and read passages while they play. The online Destination Reading and Math Jump Start programs also tested students on reading comprehension and math skills.
Through the Summer Reading: It’s a Trip program, middle and high school students logged reading hours to win prizes such as restaurant gift cards, movie tickets and iPod Shuffles.
Of course not all students appreciated the extra work.
“Reading is the worst, especially when I’m supposed to be on vacation,” said 7-year-old rising second-grader Milani Ozuna, who logged scholastic hours while attending the Summer Bridge summer school program at Marjorie Rawlings Elementary School in Pinellas Park. “I’d rather play on the computer.”
The reading initiatives won’t end with the summer, Kelley said. When classes resume, schools will add an hour of Promise Time to struggling students’ days for one-on-one tutoring with teachers and extra reading help. The district also is reviewing online games and initiatives to introduce to students. Next year there also will be a push to get more middle and high school students involved, she said.