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SCHOOLS EXPECT SUMMER READING TO PAY DIVIDENDS

Eden third-grader Michael Wright spent Friday getting ready for school by sitting in the Eden Library finishing book reports that are due when he starts school this week and count as a homework grade.

The 8-year-old was enthusiastic that he had improved his reading over the summer by fulfilling Eden Elementary School's requirements that third- to sixth-graders each read three books from a reading list and complete accompanying book reports.

"It was really fun," Michael said as he checked out books with his new library card. "I could learn more over the summer."

Required summer reading -- common for years in parochial schools and in some secondary public schools -- is reaching even prekindergartners as educators search for ways to help students meet new state standards. On top of that, many schools run in-house summer reading programs.

The bottom line is encouraging youngsters to keep their skills sharp over the summer as the state Education Department pushes its recommendation that students read at least 25 books per year and write 1,000 words per month.

Among Western New York districts, the approaches vary, but the objective is the same.

Amherst's Windermere Elementary School took what Principal Karen Karmazin described as a "very aggressive" approach. The school offered a four-week morning program for at-risk pupils in prekindergarten through fifth grade in addition to a writing camp for third- to fifth-graders in the afternoons.

For the first time, Windermere also tried a "summer reading challenge" based on a recommended reading list for kindergarten through fifth grade. Kindergartners were encouraged to read several picture books with their parents. Elementary pupils were asked to keep a list of the books they read, have their parents sign it and then bring it to school.

"The important thing is to develop a passion, a love for reading," Ms. Karmazin said.

Clarence schools already are exploring ways to link summer reading with writing at the elementary, middle and high school levels, said Joan Johnston, curriculum director. "That's one of our goals, to connect the reading with the writing," she said. "You can't afford that summer slide."

But Mrs. Johnston, like others, knows the summer school load isn't embraced by all.

"I wouldn't say my children jumped in eagerness to do this without parental guidance," she recalled. "However, it did get done."

Like many other districts, Eden sent home summer reading lists -- though many districts called the lists "encouraged" reading and left nudging children to read the books up to parents. Eden was one of the few, though, that required the reading along with homework due at the start of school.

"We could see where some parents would say, 'Hey, summer is family time,' " Eden Elementary School Principal Richard Schaefer said. "There was that discussion about whether it is our right to dictate this."

But the overall objective was to push children to keep their skills honed year-round.

Summer reading is serious business in West Seneca schools. In addition to reading lists, the district just finished its second year of a $50,000 summer reading program involving 200 pupils in grades 1 through 4 for a half-day, six-week session. It enrolled only 60 pupils last year.

"It's a very intense program, and we more than tripled the number of students," West Seneca Superintendent Richard Sagar said. "Kids made quantum leaps from when they entered the program, according to teachers."

The eight elementary schools in the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda District conducted summer learning camp for those in kindergarten through fourth grade.

"Back in the old days, summer school might have been 2 1/2 half-hours, but we did hourlong blocks and found the enthusiasm was greater," said Amanda Veazie, the curriculum director heading English language arts for the district.

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