Literacy in the Park: 'We Bring the Libraries to Them' 

click to enlarge PATTY BOWEN
  • Patty Bowen
click to enlarge PATTY BOWEN
  • Patty Bowen
Some Boise librarians will be spending less time at the check-out desk and more time in city parks this summer. They'll help deliver large bins of books as part of Literacy in the Park, a program designed to thwart the summer slump in reading skills among Idaho students.

“We all have to read—directions, prescription, applications,” said Julie Armstrong, project coordinator at the Idaho Commission for Libraries. “Over the summer, all kids are losing their skills and we want them to regain them.”

Literacy in the Park, created by the Idaho Commission for Libraries, branches out to 26 outdoor locations around Boise, primarily city parks.

“The ultimate goal is to get them into the library,” Armstrong said. “Research shows that if a child lives more than six blocks away from their public library that during the summer they’re not able to get there. We bring the libraries to them.”

According to Teresa Lipus, public information specialist at the Idaho Commission for Libraries, libraries are a great "equalizer" for lower-, middle- and upper-economic class families.

“They offer resources and learning opportunities that some of their library users may not be able to afford for themselves or find anywhere else,” said Lipus.

According to Armstrong, the importance of keeping kids’ noses in the books during the summer can't be overstated. She pointed to a 2012 study that showed 83 percent of low-income kindergartners were reading at grade level in the spring, but after the summer only 57 percent of those same children were reading at grade level.

“Reading is a skill that can make or break people in the success they have in life,” Armstrong said. “Between kindergarten and third grade kids are learning to read and after third grade they read to learn. If they’re not reading to grade level by third grade their chances of graduating are diminished a lot.”

Each Literacy in the Park location will be visited once a week by a librarian who will read several stories aloud, and then conduct different STEM (science, engineering, technology, math) and nutrition activities with the children in order to boost their learning skills. Armstrong cites their upcoming activity with marshmallows and spaghetti as a stress-free way to get kids thinking about engineering and mathematics.

“Sometimes when kids think of STEM they get sort of intimidated,” Armstrong said. “When they see these little activities using math or using engineering, they’re like, ‘Well I can do that!’”

Last year 86 percent of parents with children participating in Literacy in the Park said their children were reading more after the summer. This year’s Literacy in the Park theme is “Every hero has a story."

With better branding, and more books being provided by Book it Forward, Boise Rescue Mission and United Way, both Armstrong and Lipus said they can reach out to more children, and instill a love of reading that will stick.

“In the end I think it benefits the whole state to have a literate population,” Lipus said.
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