At the end of this school year, students in the Rochester City School District will be sent home for the summer with an armload of books.
It's part of an annual effort to prevent what's known as "the summer slide" - the literacy loss that often occurs in between school years.
And now, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center say they know how to make that program even more effective: Let students pick out books they actually want to read.
"Among the student who got to choose books, they didn't slide back over the summer. They improved over the summer compared to their peers,” said lead researcher Dr. Erin Kelly, a pediatric resident. “When we expanded it, where some students had complete choice and some students had some choice, both groups - three quarters of those students - stayed stable over the summer. So those students didn't slide."
The findings come from a study of kindergarten, first and second-graders in the Rochester City School District.
Kelly says, as a medical doctor, she is concerned about literacy because it is closely tied with health outcomes throughout a person's life.
"I've been seeing kids in my clinic with parents who are struggling, and their kids are struggling with reading and we were trying to figure out what we can do because I care about their long-term health and well-being. If they can't read, I'm not going to be able to help them achieve that."
A spokesperson for the Rochester School District says students in grades K-2 will receive a backpack filled with five pre-selected, grade-appropriate books at the end of this school year, to support the Reading by Third Grade Initiative.
In addition to the pre-selected books, students will have an opportunity to choose an additional five books at a book fair at their school.