Suspense might be the last thing one could imagine building up inside the walls of Ballenger Creek Elementary School’s library, which are covered in decorations and motivational signs.

But media specialist Lee Ann Messer had a surprise for the school’s second-grade class Wednesday morning. She announced it was time for them to participate in the school-wide book giveaway, part of the school’s summer reading program to combat a loss in reading skill.

“If students read over the summer, they stop what we call the summer slide, and they make what we call the summer stride,” Messer said. “They can move forward in their learning rather than regressing and going backwards.”

The school acquired thousands of books through donations and solicitations over the school year to provide to children over the summer, said Sally Marin, Ballenger Creek’s English language learner specialist.

“This is a really big scale to give five books to every student. We have close to 700 students, so that’s a lot of books,” Marin said.

Groups of students filed into the room and chose from nine tables of used books as well as one cart of new books. Every student had the opportunity to take home up to five books, one of which could be new.

“It’s the first [event] held of its kind at Ballenger Creek,” Principal Kristen Canning said. “We’re always concerned about learning loss in the summer. ... Through donations, both cash donations and book donations, using some school funds, we were committed to sending every child [home] with five books, one of them being brand new.”

Canning, who called the book drive a community-wide effort, noted the importance of having books appropriate for each student’s reading level. Some students at Ballenger Creek have parents who do not speak English, so it was important for students to have access to books they could read to themselves, Canning said.

Though all the books that were collected are in English, the library offers books in other languages and students will have access to online licenses that represent other languages, Canning added.

At the giveaway, students also received a drawstring backpack from Nymeo, a Frederick-based federal credit union, that included a bookmark, a summer reading list, a magnet, a schedule of the summer book drop-offs and a sheet that has passwords for the school’s online books.

Messer, who has worked at Ballenger Creek since it opened in 1991, said that when she started working at the school, summer reading was not pushed nearly as heavily.

“A lot in the world has changed [since] when Ballenger opened. We had a totally different population than we do now. ... There’s a real need to put books in the homes for a lot of our students,” she said.

In July and August, more books will be given out at “stop and drop” points in three neighborhoods. Students can also trade in their books at these locations, Canning said. In September, students who return their goal-setting sheet will get a coupon from Texas Roadhouse for a free kids meal, Messer said.

In the past, summer reading goals were mostly pushed heavily to students who were already performing below grade level, said Lori Barrick, the literacy specialist at Ballenger Creek. The school opened its library last summer, but could not reach all families, Barrick said.

“That was great, but we weren’t getting to all of our kids,” Barrick said. “We were getting to kids whose moms maybe could get them here.”

Barrick said that the school realized that they must foster a culture of year-round reading to help all students achieve their goals. They hope to see an improvement in reading levels this fall, Barrick said.

“All children, whether there is a need in the home or not, still need to be reminded that just because school’s out, reading doesn’t stop. Reading is always important,” Messer said.

Follow Lillian Andemicael on Twitter: @LAndemicael.

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