BookSmart, Rotarians, team to prevent ‘summer slump’ by reading

As the calendar days did the final days of a countdown for their summer break, elementary-grade students at San Martin Gwinn and P.A. Walsh schools received a gift for fun in the sun.

A total of 333 young people received new books and a reading light June 6, courtesy of the Celebrate Summer with Books program.

Money to purchase the fiction and nonfiction books was donated by many members of the community to the nonprofit BookSmart Community Advantage. The goal of the program is to stop the “summer slump” in learning among students in low-income families by encouraging them to read at least one book during their vacation break. The books were brought to the classrooms by Cinda Meister, co-owner of BookSmart, Katie Hardt-Mason, a member of the Rotary Club of Morgan Hill, and Marty Cheek, publisher of Morgan Hill Life newspaper.

“Reading a book for the sheer joy  of it is something that I wish for everyone,” said Teresa Sermersheim, principal of P.A. Walsh STEAM Academy, who joined in the distribution of books to fifth graders at the school. “The opportunity to  climb into an adventure, find facts in non-fiction, or laugh out loud is something to treasure.”

The students are starting the summer off right, with a book in hand to read just for the fun of it, she said. No book report, no shoe-box diorama, no test involved.

“While I support book projects and some testing, there are times when you just need to read for joy,” Sermersheim said. “This summer is a perfect time for that. Stop by BookSmart and find a book for yourself and join our students for the sheer joy of it.

Local Rotarians have long believed in the power of reading to transform lives. They have for many years encouraged young people to build their word skills with gifts of MacMillan dictionaries for all third graders in the Morgan Hill Unified School District.

The last few years of that project, they started to hear from teachers that students were no longer using dictionaries, instead they were using the Internet, said Hardt-Mason.

“We then spent some time thinking about other educational needs in the community and decided to focus on reading,” she said.

In 2018, Rotarians worked with the school district on a pilot project which provided summer reading books to third graders. Through that program, they learned that BookSmart Community Advantage had a similar project.  Mario Banuelos, the club’s director of youth services, approached Cinda Meister about the Celebrate Summer with Books program and what Rotary was hoping to do with regard to providing summer reading books to the area youth.

“The resulting match seemed perfect,” Hardt-Mason said. “With Rotary Club’s participation, BookSmart and the Rotary Club of Morgan Hill provided summer reading books and reading lights to hundreds of children in third, fourth and fifth grade.”

Delivering the books to the classrooms was a delightful experience for her.

“Not having children in elementary school anymore — mine will be freshman in high school next year — I had forgotten how excited children get when given a surprise gift,” she said. “I expected to hear just a little moaning when the children were told that we were giving them books and reading lights, but instead, I saw their faces light up with excitement.”

The younger students were openly emotional about receiving the books, she said. Some even asked if they could share them with their friends when they finished reading them.

“It’s so easy to forget at times how even something as small as a book has the potential of opening new doors and opportunities,” she said. “I truly believe that this small gift will change the lives of at least a few kids this summer.”

The official mission of BookSmart Community Advantage: elevate community interest and love of the literacy arts to all residents of Morgan Hill and South Bay; establish a warm and friendly environment for young readers; embrace and enrich the diversity of Morgan Hill’s cultural heritage; serve as one of Morgan Hill’s “town square” destination sites for community engaged activities; nurture and expand the influence of literary arts

“What that means to me is we promote and encourage the love of reading at every level any way we can,” Meister said. “By every metric reading is super important for the quality of life and we want everyone to experience the pure joy of being well read.”

The Celebrate Summer with Books program is a joint partnership with the idea that if the community provides fun books to children who might not have the resources or ability to acquire one  to read, it will help reduce “the summer slump” and maybe turn a child into to a lifelong reader at the same time.

“The partnership for this year consisted of BookSmart Community Advantage, the Morgan Hill Rotary Club, Life Media Group, AAUW of Morgan Hill and anonymous donors from our amazing community,” she said.

Robert Airoldi