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Arizona digital book program aims to prevent summer reading slide

Terri Clark, literacy director for the group Read On Arizona, said the goal of a digital book program is helping kids read at least 20 minutes a day during summer break. (Cronkite News photo/Kirsten Kraklio)

PHOENIX -- Summer vacation often means a break from schoolwork for students, but to Terri Clark it means the potential for the summer slide -- and not the one at the local water park.

That's because it can be a time when kids lose reading and literacy skills they learned during the school year because they don't read over the summer.

"They actually backtrack, and when they come into the school next year in the fall they're having to make up some gains that they had last year," said Clark, literacy director for the group Read On Arizona, a partnership of groups committed to literacy and improving language skills.

To combat this, Read On Arizona, the Arizona Department of Education and other partners are making it easier for kids to access digital books when the library isn't convenient.

From April to September, kids will have free access to a digital library of more than 4,000 titles offered by Minneapolis-based myON, which provides personalized learning environments for students.

In addition to being able to read digital books on computers and mobile devices, kids are able to use a mobile app to read offline.

"We have some higher-level novels as well as early literacy titles for younger kids who are just learning how to read," said Megan Swanson, a myON marketing assistant.

Ten percent of the titles available are in Spanish, she said.

The goal for Clark and Read On Arizona is getting children reading 20 minutes a day, but accessing books to achieve those minutes can be difficult for some parents.

"Last summer when we launched our summer reading collaborative, one of our issues we encountered was that as much as families wanted to participate not all of them could get to the library during library hours, or they didn't live close to their library or they just had transportation issues," Clark said.

"We understand the families we're trying to reach have lots of challenges, lots of stressors going on in their life," she said.

At a Phoenix Public Library branch in uptown Phoenix, Anabel Ayala said it's difficult to make time to get library books for her 4-year-old son Jayden. Ayala said Read On Arizona's summer program would make that easier, especially in the heat of summer.

"I try to come once a week, but sometimes it's like twice a month," Ayala said.

Clark said the program gives busy families a convenient way to get books and read on their own time.

"It's really important to have kids reading over the summer," she said.

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