Reading Rocks

Volunteer Barbara Bailly reads with Landyn Pittman, 10, at a Reading Rocks event at Central Park on July 13, 2017.

Not every kid has a summer reading list. But a long-running program at Billings parks can help kids avoid losing hard-earned progress in the classroom while school is out. 

Reading Rocks will enter its 15th year in Billings on June 18. The program, run by the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools, is still looking for volunteers to read to kids.

"There are no special skills required," said Julie Whitworth, the foundation's event coordinator. "We look for people in the community that have the time and the desire to spend about 45 minutes once a week to just share their love of literature with kids."

If there's one things kids can do to help them stay prepared for school over the summer, it's read. The Billings Public Library offers summer programs, but those aren't accessible for some kids, Whitworth said, especially those from low-income families

"They don't always have opportunities to go to summer camps and take advantage of enrichment opportunities," she said. 

Reading Rocks dovetails off School District 2's free lunch program that typically serves more than 40,000 meals at parks through the summer. 

Reading Rocks books

Naomi and Jude Varilek, right, and Edna and Axel Kuhn pick out books as the lunchtime Reading Rocks program from the Billings Public Schools Education Foundation starts at North Park in 2016. 

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Targeting students from low-income families is backed up by reams of research; studies have shown that poor kids tend to lose more academic progress over the summer than their more affluent peers. 

"It's referred to a lot in research in literature as the summer slide," Whitworth said. 

Research has shown that structured, expansive and academically challenging programs — more and more like a traditional school day, essentially — are most effective for stopping that slide.

But summer school options are limited across Montana. The state provides no dedicated summer school funding. 

Programs like Reading Rocks can still help. One study found that reading as few as six books over the summer can help children maintain their reading level. 

In addition to reading to kids, books are given away to kids at Reading Rocks to help them build their own libraries.  

"The research just tells us that if kids are reading, they're going to start the school year stronger," Whitworth said. 

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