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'Bag of Books' summer library program keeps kids reading in Cottage Grove

Mathew Allen will be in second grade this year at Grey Cloud Elementary School. He's one of 100 children who attend the summer Bag of Books program. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner1 / 2
From left, Brayden and Tanner Abram are reading to Liz Schiller, reading teacher in the summer Bag of Books program at Grey Cloud Elementary School. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner2 / 2

Children wearing backpacks is an uncommon sight during summer vacation -- unless they're going to school once a week for the Bag of Books program.

About 100 kids are participating in Grey Cloud Elementary School book program and the full backpacks they carry show that reading is part of their summer activities.

Educators have known for a long time that some students don't retain reading and math skills over the summer, but school libraries often are not available.

The idea to have an independent library at schools, such as Grey Cloud, started with grants to buy books and staff summer reading programs in the 1990s and continues with help from Minnesota Department of Education's targeted services for remedial and enhancement programs not paid for by school districts.

During a recent visit to Grey Cloud with sons Tanner and Brayden, Dave Abram said the boys are following their older sister who also went to Bag of Books.

"They love to read," he said, "and the teachers here do a great job."

Tanner, who'll be in fourth grade, said he used to read a lot of books about animals. Recently, however, he's become interested in author Rick Riordan's fictional book series about Percy Jackson.

Grey Cloud teachers Liz Schiller and Joan Stanton make sure kids are reading at their levels because the goal is to maintain reading skills, not to advance.

Each child has a regular appointment time. They read aloud which helps them learn to pronounce words they haven't seen before.

Teachers ask kids to read 20 minutes a day for a minimum of five days a week and log the times on a calendar.

If they keep up with their calendar, at the end of the summer kids get a treat bag.

"It's a good day if you can put a book in the hands of a child," Schiller said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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