Phila. third graders to receive 4 free books to read and keep

Posted: June 15, 2014

On the last Friday of the school year, about 20 third graders at Nebinger Elementary School in Bella Vista escaped lessons in multiplication and division during the morning session. The catch: They had to spend about an hour in the library and be attentive while a half-dozen adults preached the importance of reading.

Afterward, Mayor Nutter, School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., and several administrators handed each of them four new books to keep and read over the summer. The giveaway was part of an effort by the city and the School District's Department of Human Services, among others, to make sure all of Philadelphia's 51,200 students in grades K-3 have something to read over the summer.

"The third grade represents an important shift when it comes to reading, a shift from learning to read to reading to learn," Nutter said before the cameras stationed inside the fourth-floor library.

While Nutter's words were heavy on policy - he said he hoped to double the number of third graders reading at their grade level by 2020 - Hite turned his attention to the children.

"Good morning, boys and girls," he said with a smile. "Do all of you want to go on to middle school and high school?"

The students, animated at this point, responded with a resounding, "Yes."

"Do all of you want to go on to college, and do really well in college?"

The third graders gave an even louder, "Yes!"

Once Hite got their full attention, he told them that the more they read, the better they will do in school. They will need to learn 2,000 to 5,000 words each year to do well in college, Hite told them, before challenging them to read all summer.

"Reading can take you to places you might never experience," he told them, and then asked that they write letters to him about their favorite book.

The program takes aim at one of the School District's many needs: Half of the students who took the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests in 2012 could not read at their grade level.

Studies have shown that students who read below their grade level while at third grade are more likely to drop out, falter academically later on, and encounter other serious troubles. A recent Children's Hospital of Philadelphia study indicated that nearly one in five public school students in the city have had contact with either the child welfare or juvenile justice systems.

DHS covered the $422,000 cost of the books, which included Jaime Lucero's How to Make Salsa and The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu: A Korean Folktale by T'ae-hyong Kang.

Before they got their books - six titles were available, but each student only got four - the third graders had to listen to speakers from DHS, Public Citizens for Children and Youth, the Urban Affairs Commission, and the city Parks and Recreation Department.

When that was done, the mayor got down to business.

"And now, I think we're going to pass out some books," he said. "It doesn't get much better than that."


LO' Neal@phillynews.com

215-854-2619 @LydsONeal

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