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Bright Spots Series: Close the Gap Distributes Books to Address Summer Learning Loss

BY Craig Pederson, Community Impact Associate


MLK Day of Service volunteer reading to children

A week before Thanksgiving a cohort of individuals gathered in Durham for a volunteer opportunity that can carry a lot of weight within the community. Seriously…42,000 brand new children’s books weigh a lot!

As each book-laden pallet was forklifted from the semi-truck, it was the community who answered the call for help in moving the library’s worth of books toward its final destination…the hands and homes of 4,000 low-income children who live in our community.

Books are essential to a healthy childhood. However, books are lacking in low-income homes throughout our community. Roughly 61% of low-income children are growing up in homes without books. This book gap puts them at a severe disadvantage for school success, and ultimately long-term prosperity.

Studies show that 3rd grade reading proficiency is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success. Yet every year, more than 80% of our low-income children will miss this crucial benchmark.

Countering the income-based achievement gap. A unique collaborative partnership of a local non-profit agency (Book Harvest), a state-wide Foundation (North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation), and a national social-enterprise (First Book) has joined together to increase access to summer reading though the distribution of books to children in low-income schools.

Supported by United Way of the Greater Triangle, the Close the Gap Collaboration is launching a full-scale attack on summer learning loss by providing tens of thousands of books to nearly 4,000 low-income children in the Durham and Chapel Hill-Carrboro public school systems. Through their Books on Break model, Book Harvest will distribute books to children who qualify for free or reduced lunch, for these children to start their own in-home library.

…increasing children’s access to print (books and magazines) produce positive effects on children’s reading achievement, effects that are larger than the average effect sizes of all other educational interventions!” (Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Reading Guide)

The common vision of Close the Gap is just that…to ‘close the gap’. Specifically, to close the achievement gap, the book gap must first be closed…and the time to start is the summer.

Closing the book gap in summer has been shown to decrease the extent of summer learning loss. Providing books to kids in need during the summer is the first and most fundamental step to close the income-based achievement gap and to ensure that all our children, regardless of family income, have a real chance at school success.

What do we know about the role of books in school success? According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, books are a critical tool to help all children succeed in school. In fact, books in the home are the single biggest indicator of academic success—surpassing income, parents’ education, and family composition. Simply stated, to do well in school, children need to grow up in homes rich with books!

Summer reading loss accounts for roughly 80% of the reading achievement gap between more and less economically advantaged children. By the time both groups of children are nearing graduation from high school, the rich/poor reading achievement gap is 4 years wide, with children from low-income families performing at the same level as the middle-class children in 8th grade. (Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Reading Guide)

The genius behind Close the Gap model is that it is simple, scalable, and low-cost―utilizing a low-tech solution…books. The goal is to provide all children with the basic tools needed to hold onto their hard-won academic gains over the summer and to thrive in the classroom throughout the school year.

Back to the truck load of books! So on that day the books arrived, each volunteer undertook the tedious yet arduous task of unloading over 40,000 books, knowing that lives would be forever changed. With each back ache, a child’s future was no longer defined by his or her family’s financial status; a community was being transformed by the potential influx of future high-school and college graduates. The fabric of families, and the children of future generations, benefited by the vision of Close the Gap and by the decision of the community to act through their volunteerism.


Thanks to our Close the Gap partners!
{} unfunded:

  • Book Harvest
  • First Book
  • NC Early Childhood Foundation
  • {Durham Public Schools}
  • {Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools}