PBS and JetBlue partner up to keep kids reading all summer long

"Soar with Reading" offers in-flight packages to entertain young travelers with reading games.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/CSM staff photographer
Studies show that summer reading programs can result in improved performance when students return to school in the fall.

While running around outside keeps children physically active during the summer, it's important that they exercise their minds as well.

Studies show that if kids forego reading throughout the summer, they are vulnerable to the "summer slide," a decrease in learning and reading level over the summer months.

The National Summer Learning Association reported that students could lose from one to three months of learning – math and reading – during the summer

“We’re on a mission to change that,” said Lesli Rotenburg, senior vice president of children’s media at PBS, who partnered with JetBlue Airways to launch Soar with Reading – Let Your Imagination Take Flight, an initiative to keep children engaged in reading and learning everywhere they go this summer.

“It’s really just to get kids out there reading,” said Gina Rauscher, manager of Corporate Social Responsibility for JetBlue. “Reading and education can happen anywhere.”

The program, targeted at ages three to eight, provides children flying with JetBlue this summer with a free activity kit filled with reading games to entertain them during flight.

“You’re just looking for something to do, so why not give them activity books…. keep families engaged when in an airplane,” Rotenburg said.

On the program’s website, SoarwithReading.com, parents can download the same activity kit, craft a summer reading list, and log minutes spent reading.

“We're taking the JetBlue experience to a new level, creating new ways for families to take advantage of the free Soar with Reading resources – online, in-flight, and on the ground in local communities,” Icema Gibbs, director of corporate social responsibility for JetBlue said in a press release.

“The program was designed to help improve literacy skills,” said Rauscher. “We are working to get it on board on all of our flights and in all of our airports.”

JetBlue is coordinating with their general managers from Costa Rico, Columbia, the Dominican Republic and other locations to develop similar programs. They have also published the activity book in Spanish.

But Rauscher said children traveling with JetBlue are only a fraction of the target audience. Another component of the program brings JetBlue crewmembers, PBS KIDS characters, and hosts and popular authors of children’s books to local libraries across the country in cities including Washington, D.C.; New York; Boston; and Los Angeles.

One nominated library will also receive $10,000 worth of Random House Children’s Books. A runner-up will receive $2,500 worth of books followed by five others that will receive $500 worth of books.

“Reading is fundamental to everything we do as adults and we know that children who read achieve greater success in life,” Rotenburg said.

For every child that registers on the Soar with Reading website, First Book will also donate one book to a child in a low-income community up to 10,000 books. First Book distributes books and educational materials to programs and schools in low-income areas throughout the US and Canada.

Studies show that students who participate in public library summer reading programs during the summer return to school in the fall more ready to learn with an improved level of reading when compared to children who do not engage in summer reading programs according to teachers, as reported in a three-year study conducted by the Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies.

The study also showed that students in a public library summer reading program earned higher scores on reading achievement tests at the start of the school year.

“We love the fact that we are able to add this [program] to everything that we’re doing to make summertime about learning time,” Rotenberg said. “We are really dedicated to make sure that every child has the opportunity to succeed in school and in life.”

Chloe Stepney is a Monitor contributor.

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