Encouraging and Reinforcing Reading Through Kwanzaa

September 20, 2010

Closing the achievement gap between low-income students and those students in high achieving schools has been the subject of endless debate and controversy. However, a study in Baltimore offers new insights as to why low-income children lag behind their more privileged classmates in high school graduation rates and college attendance. In “Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap,” Johns Hopkins University sociologists Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Steffel Olson find the difference in children’s future academic success can be explained, in part, by their experiences during their summer vacations.

The study contends that there is a summer learning gap between lower- and higher-income children and it begins during elementary school. Higher-income children’s home environments are resource rich. They are more likely to have access to magazines, books, and have their parents read to them. Consequently, this gap accumulates over the years and results in unequal placements in college preparatory tracks once the children get to high school. The gap also increases the chances that children from low socio-economic families will drop out of high school and decreases their chances of attending a four-year college.

Thus, according to the authors, these findings are significant because once disadvantaged children get to high school, their achievement test scores are far below average, compared with those of higher-income children. Achievement test scores play an important role in academic placement. Because of lower scores, these children are then associated with higher risks of dropping out of high school, and not continuing on to college.

The African American holiday Kwanzaa, with its emphasis on continuous learning and high achievement can be an effective intervention for families and schools. Kwanzaa provides incentives for children and youth to read. Book(s) are one of the seven Kwanzaa symbols, and are a mandatory part of Kwanzaa gift giving. No matter what is given during Kwanzaa, a book must be given. The book is to remind both parents and the child of the importance and priority of learning and education.

The summer vacation is prime opportunity for schools, libraries and families to leverage Kwanzaa in promoting summer reading and learning for low-income students. A coordinated effort by schools, libraries, parents and interested sponsors and stakeholders could make the traditional summer school break into a challenging yet rewarding experience for low-income students. Reading just one book during the summer accompanied by a book report or book review, a list of new vocabulary works, and a summary presentation after the reading of each chapter during meal time or a dedicated time period would in fact be consistent with what research tells us, namely the “Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap,” is a major step in helping low-income students sustain what they have learned during the school year.

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