Emphasis on Reading, Feeding

Summer Reading Program Expanding
Posted on 05/16/2018
Image of City of Akron's Logo(as reported by Jennifer Conn, cleveland.com)

The city of Akron plans to boost a summer reading program for children and offer it in conjunction with an existing food program for kids 18 and younger.

The city has offered free breakfast and lunch for many years for kids who lose access to healthy meals during the summer.

This year, the city will contract with Akron Public Schools to provide the meals rather than use an outside vendor.

The move was intended to improve both the food and the service, said Akron Public Schools Executive Director of Business Affairs Debra Foulk.

"Kids will find food they like and are used to, which will increase numbers," she said. "We're super excited."

The meals program is funded through a $370,000 Ohio Department of Education grant. Meals will be served at 50 sites around the city, with 15 of them at the school district's community learning centers.

Akron's Summer Reading Program will not take place at all the sites with food service. It will be open to all Akron children under 18 - not just those who attend public schools, officials said.

On Monday, Akron City Council approved a $10,000 budget for the reading program, which is double last year's budget when the program served almost 170 kids.

The money will come from $40,000 budgeted for the My Neighborhood Akron program and will pay for data collection and a program coordinator, said At-large Councilman Jeff Fusco.

Fusco sponsored the reading program legislation with At-large Council members Veronica Sims and Linda Omobien, and Ward 1 Councilman Rick Swirsky.

"This program is near and dear to my heart," Fusco said. "We're going to super-size it."

This year the program will serve children in all 10 Akron wards, and the hope is to double the number of students served, he said.

The number of sites will increase from six to 12, with nine of them at community learning centers where the lunch program is held, said Akron Recreation Bureau Manager Brittany Schmoekel. Children can participate in both programs at those sites.

Data collected by the Summit Education Initiative shows the reading program has had a positive effect on third- through fifth-grade participants, who are kept from the so-called "summer slide," in which they forget what they've learned during the school year, Schmoekel said.

"It's like it's morphed and getting better and better every year," Fusco told City Council's Parks and Recreation Committee members.

And wrapping it around the CLC's food program is a good idea, he said.

"This is really unique," Foulk said. "It's going to be fun to put together."

In its first two years, the reading program was powered by volunteers. Last summer, 50 retirees, teachers and residents volunteered to help the kids read.

This year could require double that number, and volunteers will be required to undergo a background check and training, which can be taken online, Schmoekel said.

Fusco, who said he is volunteering two days per week for nine weeks, challenged other City Council members to do the same.

To volunteer for the program. call the Akron Recreation Bureau at 330.375.2804. For reading program locations, visit the city website.
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