It all started 14 years ago when Gloria Sweeney and other faculty at K-Beach Elementary school piloted a program to keep students reading through their summer break. They called it “Reading Is Great in Summer” RIGS. Today students of the first students are participating in RIGS and happily stepping forward to receive their RIGS t-shirts that have been funded by the Soldotna Rotary Club for all 14 years of the program. “We found that studies have shown that regression that takes place over the summer is amazing and most people don’t realize this. So when the schools want to do bench mark testing the first few weeks after school begins and the scores are low they look at what new services are needed when in fact all that is needed is a little more time to retrieve what they’ve lost over the summer. So if we can start at the beginning of the year where they left off before summer break we’ve made huge progress and that is the purpose and what RIGS accomplishes,” explained Sweeney. To build incentive and student initiative to read over the summer the faculty puts on an awards assembly annually where prizes and books are given to participants who have tracked their reading minutes over the summer and at K-Beach a king or queen of reading is crowned. This RIGS Royalty was Anna May Gilliam who read 17,592 minutes or nearly four hours a day on average over the 83 day summer. “I read all kinds of books but I like fiction the best. I had a great summer, I love to read and I got outside a lot too,” Queen Gilliam told the Dispatch.
The success of the RIGS program has been noted by other elementary schools in the Central Peninsula and this year Soldotna Rotary supported summer reading programs at Soldotna Elementary and Sterling Elementary. This is the 3rd year that Soldotna has participated and they pick a theme each year that ties into their summer reading program. This year being an Olympic year they choose the symbol of an Olympic athlete and compared them to summer readers, handing out gold, silver and bronze medals to the top summer readers. “We wanted to ty our theme back to original Greek times so our teachers dressed accordingly which made it a lot of fun,” said 3rd grade teacher Shaya Straw, “We had 27 students return their summer reading log which equaled 70,519 minutes or 1,175 hours. This year I was able to look at where my students were last year at the end of the year and I looked at where they were at the beginning of the year and I could tell which students had been reading over the summer,” she said. Straw’s student Tristan Yoncher was the gold medalist of summer reading tallying 4,574 minutes, “Reading is fun and I like the regular books better than the e-books,” he said.
Then in the afternoon Soldotna Rotarians were handing out awards out at Sterling Elementary school for the second year, “We think summer reading programs is a perfect fit for the Rotary literacy program and are happy to support any school that wants to implement one,” said Soldotna Rotary president Chris Hough.