A grassroots program at an Illawarra primary school has seen massive improvements in literacy levels – and a new breed of bookworms emerging.
Introduced in 2014, the Read Strong Warrawong program aims to stop children from slipping backwards over the school holidays.
Warrawong Public School assistant principal Debbie McIlwain said the concept was introduced to improve students’ literacy after a long break from school.
“There's a lot of research showing that kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds slip backwards in their reading levels over the holidays,” Ms McIlwain said.
“It's commonly known through the research as the ‘summer slide’.”
For some children, the “summer slide” means they may never catch up with their peers, with some ending up more than six months behind by the end of primary school.
The school - located in one of NSW's most disadvantaged postcodes - has also drawn on research showing that children who have lot of books in their homes are less likely to fall behind in reading levels.
With many of their families unable to afford new books, the school runs raffles, barbecues and lobbies local organisations and politicians to buy books.
The success of their fundraising means students in grades K-2 are able to take home six brand new books over the school holidays.
With the program now in its fourth year, Ms McIlwain said the results were astounding.
“This year, after our book giveaway in late 2016, 90 per cent of our kids came back to school at or above their 2016 reading level,” she said.
For those in Kindergarten returning to Year 1, she said 30 of 32 children maintained or increased their reading level.
“In Year 1 to Year 2, 16 per cent actually improved their reading levels just by reading over the holiday,” Ms McIlwain said.
“And for those in Year 2 going into the NAPLAN testing year, Year 3, nearly half the students increased their reading level over the holidays and 45 per cent maintained their levels
“This shows that the longer the children are in the program, the better the results they’re getting.”
To build on this success and make sure children stay excited about reading throughout the year, the school recently introduced an in-school book club where students share their books with other children.
Ms McIlwain said she hoped the program would continue to grow.
To help support Warrawong Public School with their ‘Read Strong Warrawong’ program, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We have tried to build a community spirit to raise money for books to give to children at the end of the year,” Ms McIlwain said.
“The Rotary Club of Dapto donated $1000 towards the books.
“Target and Coles have also helped by donating vouchers for raffles to buy books.
“The kids love it and it helps to build lifelong success.”