In Troup County, students walked out of schools, preschools, and daycare centers on March 12, not expecting that it would lead to a time of extended physical distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The cancellation of summer camps, vacations, outdoor activities, and other events took away opportunities for children to relax and recharge while school’s out.

Every year, summer reading loss leads to a very real phenomenon known as the “summer slide.” Research shows that students who don’t read can lose up to three months of reading ability over the summer. Losing two months in the classroom this spring due to the pandemic has made this gap even more significant. Get Troup Reading identified this problem early on, developing an alternative plan to provide children access to books.

Get Troup Reading partners Nicole Kennedy, Troup County School System parent and family engagement coordinator, and Gail Gordon, Success by 6 coordinator, typically team up during the summer months to promote literacy, teach lessons, and provide free books to children at day camps, vacation Bible schools, summer school programs, and within local neighborhoods.

They found new ways to reach kids safely this year by scheduling visits to school lunch sites, early learning centers, and community outreach programs such as Ark Refuge Ministry and Meals on Wheels. To make the delivery process safe and streamlined, volunteers asked detailed questions to ensure that all books were age-appropriate and reflected each reader’s interests.

“We also promote free online educational resources from the CDC, Noggin, and the United Way to parents of the children who receive books,” said volunteer Kathleen Ernest. “We make sure families know that these online resources provide great ways to keep children learning over the summer and are being offered for free during the crisis.”

Meal pick-up sites at schools provided an effective way to connect with families, but volunteers didn’t stop there. Gordon expanded coverage to include local daycare centers, distributing books and additional resources to preschool-age children. “Mama Jama,” a longtime local literacy ambassador portrayed by Debbie Burdette, also made special appearances to hand out books throughout the summer.

“The children loved seeing one of their favorite characters from the community at their day care centers and schools,” said Get Troup Reading Executive Director Kim Myers. “Mama Jama’s presence sends the message to kids that we are still here, and we still care about them even during these strange times.”

Going even further, Kennedy piloted an online tutoring program called “Read, Learn, Grow” for a group of rising second graders. She arranged for each child participating in the program to receive a bag of books at the end of the summer to build their own home libraries.

Gordon, Kennedy, and a team of dedicated volunteers have visited 36 locations and put over 2,000 books in the hands of the children of Troup County since the onset of COVID-19. Life has changed—but the priority placed on reading and learning remains the same.

Find out more about Get Troup Reading’s efforts by checking out The LaGrange Daily News article, “Kim Myers Speaks on Importance of Locals Making Impact on Reading.”