Overcoming the digital divide – the gap between those with access to computers and internet and those without – in the middle of a pandemic highlighted the inequitable impact felt by some communities served by the Orange County Library System (OCLS). Thankfully, the Duke Energy Foundation provided OCLS a $5,000 grant to pilot a targeted outreach program to ensure children hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic received access to high-quality reading materials and children’s programs.
As any astute library card holder could tell you, the annual Summer Reading Program (SRP) is a great time to engage kids in high-quality, educational programs like storytimes, cooking tutorials, crochet lessons, business and entrepreneurship, and more. Another major component of SRP is the reading challenge. It encourages kids to read at least 20 minutes a day, and they’re rewarded with goodie bags and raffle prizes. According to the Florida Department of Education, “it only takes 20 minutes per day to vastly improve a child’s reading ability.” This is especially true during the summer while children are out of school. Unfortunately, OCLS staff noticed significantly lower SRP participation from 2019 to 2020 at several branch locations that serve diverse communities.
The Duke Energy Foundation’s focus on addressing summer reading loss (also known as “summer slide” – the loss of reading ability or academic skills during summer) for kindergartners through third-graders proved to be an excellent partnership in addressing the attendance discrepancy from in-person library programming to virtual. Our goal for this grant was to reach and enroll 100 students living near specific library branches (Eatonville, Fairview Shores, North Orange and South Trail) in the Summer Reading Program, encouraging them to participate in events, programs and reading challenges. Through intensive outreach using multilingual (English, Spanish and Haitian Creole) resources, the library sought to reach families who did not participate in last summer’s program. The South Trail branch even had the opportunity to promote the initiative on air with WKMG.
OCLS targeted our outreach efforts on recruiting local partners, such as daycares, neighborhood centers and schools, to help identify children ages 4–8 to enroll in the program. By the end of the summer, there were 14 community partners including City of Orlando Neighborhood Centers, the Boys & Girls Club, Princeton Elementary and the Ivy League Achievers Academy. Promotional materials were also distributed throughout these communities to several local businesses and schools.
Library staff supported these partnerships and visited their partners several times over the summer to drop off craft kits and STEM activity kits, present storytimes or a guided StoryWalk®, and even conduct science experiments.
As an added bonus, each participating child received two brand new books which were carefully selected by our Collection Development librarians to appeal to the diverse communities we were targeting. Selections included picture books, chapter books and graphic novels including New Kid by Jerry Kraft, Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry and We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom. These books helped each child build or expand their home library while fostering a love of reading.
Our primary goal with this initiative was to enroll 100 kids. In the end, we enrolled a total of 383 – surpassing our goal by nearly 400%. Furthermore, three out of five children enrolled completed the reading challenge by reading at least 600 minutes.
OCLS delivers experiences that offer opportunities to help the community learn and grow. This initiative connected hundreds of children with programs and quality reading materials over the summer. But the summer was just the beginning. Many of the new community partners developed through this grant have committed to an ongoing relationship with their local branches. Thanks to the Duke Foundation’s support these children will now be able to Learn. Grow. Connect. with the library year-round.