Lexington party celebrates summer reading

brantin@thestate.comJuly 23, 2013 

— Hundreds of students from the Swansea and Gaston communities took a temporary break from their summer vacations Tuesday evening. But they didn’t leave their books behind.

The games, cheers, refreshments, celebrity visits and activities echoing from Sandhills Elementary School marked a celebration of what Lexington 4 school officials and others in the community are hoping will become a year-round activity.

It was the school district’s second Hot Summer, Cool Books Summer Reading Celebration, part of ongoing efforts to combat summer reading loss, also known as the “summer slide.” The event is designed to encourage summer reading and celebrate the summer reading successes of the district students, specifically those in grades K-8.

“I think we are really trying to change the culture of our community to promote how important reading is,” said Emily Allen, one of four literacy coaches in the district.

With the help of a grant from Central Carolina Community Foundation and the State Department of Education, the school district gave students in grades K-8 anywhere from eight to 12 fiction and nonfiction books of their choice the end of last school year to keep and read over the summer. The students were rewarded for their progress Tuesday with a series of reading activities, games, food booths along with special appearances by football players, band members and cheerleaders from area high schools. Members of the University of South Carolina football team also attended.

And to reinforce the central message of reading, the district gave the students – and their adult guests – even more books to take home with them on Tuesday.

“It takes away the excuse (of not having anything to read),” Allen said. “We try to gear everything toward literacy but it’s not a competition. This year’s (event) did seem to be more social, and I think that’s so important in a small community.”

The school district is joined in its literacy efforts by area faith-based organizations and civic groups as many have held their own reading initiatives. And the community-wide calls to read have seemingly landed on some willing ears.

Charlie Hightower will begin first grade this year but already has gotten an early start on reading this summer.

“When you get to the end (of a book), it’s always a celebration,” he said, adding he’s most fond of nonfiction books like “Spiders Are Not Insects.”

Fourth-grader Lainey Griner said she enjoys mysteries and is usually surprised by the ending of most books.

Swansea High School football player Chance Walker and several teammates joined USC players who read to the young visitors Tuesday.

“We are trying to show them how to use reading to be successful,” Walker said.

Allen said the hope is that events like this and various others in the community will help promote reading as a way of life.

“It’s like a laser-like focus,” she said. “If we are to improve, we all have to be stakeholders in (encouraging) that.”

Reach Rantin at (803) 771-8306.

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