‘Making a difference for our students’: BCPS libraries encourage summer learning, reading


Today, summer break is halfway over for nearly 110,000 Baltimore County Public Schools students, who will return to the classrooms for the 2015-2016 school year on Monday, August 24. While some students are traveling across the state, country, and perhaps, even the world for camps and vacations this season, many are spending their summer just a stone’s throw away in BCPS school libraries.

“Summer hours for school libraries enable students who may not live in close proximity to a public library to access resources throughout the summer,” says Fran Glick, coordinator of the Office of Digital Learning in the Department of Innovative Learning.


Among the libraries open this summer are those at Bear Creek, Halethorpe, and Halstead Academy, three elementary schools committed to their students’ success all year long.

Preparing for the future

A Title I school for six years, Bear Creek Elementary builds on its after-school activities with extended-year learning programs held during the summer. From an enrichment initiative to supplemental instruction, the programs offered at the school provide an invaluable benefit to their participants.

“These programs help to sustain learning and prevent regression of skills in the summer months,” says Cheryl Thim, Bear Creek’s principal.

Through the school’s enrichment initiative, students can borrow up to three books each week from Bear Creek’s library. When students arrive at the library, they are joined by teachers, who help them to search shelves and stacks of books for materials on their reading level. Sandy Bixby, a library media specialist at Edgemere Elementary School who is spending the summer at Bear Creek, facilitates the students’ search by recommending books that also match their interests.

“I am able to pull materials that students ask about and have them ready the next week when they return to the library,” says Bixby. “The library’s operating hours are structured to allow students from the school community to return previous books and check out new ones at times that are convenient for them.”

According to Bixby, Bear Creek’s enrichment initiative serves approximately 50 students, many of whom also are involved in the school’s supplemental instruction program, which focuses on developing and reinforcing students’ mathematics and reading skills in preparation for new learning in the fall.

“We serve students who need intervention as well as those who may benefit from enrichment based upon their growth scores on reading and math assessments during the year,” says Thim about the supplemental instruction program. “We also target siblings of those students who qualify for the program.”

Bear Creek families are welcome to visit the school’s library on weekdays until July 31 from 8:45 to 11:45 a.m.

Reinforcing good reading habits

Over on the southwest side of the county, Halethorpe Elementary is reviving a summer learning opportunity introduced five summers ago.

“I am offering a summer checkout program at my school library,” says Melissa Ronnenburg, the library media specialist at Halethorpe. “I did offer a summer checkout program [during] my first two years at Halethorpe in 2010 and 2011 but, unfortunately due to painting and construction at our school, I have not been able to do this the past three summers.”

In its first two years, the program allowed students to browse the school library’s collection for books that interested them. Students were invited to read their selections on-site or at home, with those who opted for the latter option benefitting from the opportunity to exchange old books for new ones during successive visits to the library. Since then, however, the program has grown in terms of both the number of students participating and the number of activities available.

“We had 101 students in Grades K-4 sign up for the program this year,” says Ronnenburg, adding that, as avid readers, the children borrowed more than 500 books before the end of the 2014-2015 school year. “I also partnered with Arlene Barry from the Arbutus branch of the Baltimore County Public Library and invited her staff to join me.”

Through the partnership, Halethorpe students are able to sign up for the BCPL Summer Reading Club, a program offered annually that encourages children of all ages to continue honing their reading skills during the summer months. This year, students who register for the program receive game boards to guide their learning, stickers to mark their progress, and prizes to celebrate their completion of 16 books or 16 hours of reading.

On her decision to collaborate with BCPL, Ronnenburg says, “[M]any of our students aren’t able to get to the public library... [but through the partnership,] someone from the Arbutus branch will be with me at Halethorpe during the open hours.”

Joining forces with BCPL does more than simply bring the public library closer to home for Halethorpe students, though; it also reinforces a message that Ronnenburg strives to instill in each visitor to her school’s library.

“It is extremely important for all students to practice their reading over the summer so they won’t lose some of their reading skills,” she says. “When I talk to the students about summer reading, I bring up our favorite athletes. Athletes need to train and practice in their off season, just like our students need to practice reading over the summer.”

Opportunities for Halethorpe students to continue with their reading practice will come on July 29 and August 12, when the school’s library will be open from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Engaging a variety of skills

Like Bear Creek and Halethorpe, Halstead Academy supports students enrolled in extended-year learning programs, facilitates book exchanges, and assists with registration for the BCPL Summer Reading Club during its off-season library hours.

“We want our students to continue reading during the summer to prevent the summer slide,” says Diane Fontinell, the library media specialist at Halstead, about the activities offered at her school. “All students and families in the community are encouraged to come check out books, [and] by partnering with the Baltimore County Public Library, we are able to promote the library system’s summer reading program.”

Yet, as important as reading is, Fontinell recognizes that, during the summer, students must engage their creativity and critical thinking skills, too. For that reason, the school also invites students to take part in its Makerspace Club, a program through which visitors to the library can participate in do-it-yourself projects.

“On July 8, students created art bots from everyday materials,” says Fontinell, offering an example of an activity completed through the club. She adds that plans for other Makerspace projects include “creating pom-pom launchers, free-standing marble runs, and LED pop-up cards.”

For Halstead, this year marks the second that its library has held off-season hours for students; however, for many of the school’s business partners, this summer is the first time that they have supported learning year-round in such a significant way.

A & G Management, a company that leases apartments and homes near the school, donated a family pack of four tickets to an Orioles game, and the Chick-Fil-A in Parkville provided students with special bookmarks printed with coupons. Both businesses, according to Fontinell, became involved in an effort to encourage student visits to Halstead’s library.

“Staying open in the summer gives our students access to the books that they want to read... [and] the support from local business partnerships helps to bring students inside our doors,” says Fontinell.

The library at Halstead will be open on July 22 and 29 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

With activities and programs like those offered at Bear Creek, Halethorpe, and Halstead, there’s no wonder why Glick says that she and BCPS library media specialists are “confident that summer access to school libraries is making a difference for our students and their families”!

For more information on summer library hours at additional schools, check out each week’s BCPS News Tips by visiting and clicking on “BCPS Press and Media Releases.”

Story by Blake Lubinski, Department of Communications and Community Outreach. Photos from Sandy Bixby, library media specialist, Edgemere Elementary School; Melissa Ronnenburg, library media specialist, Halethorpe Elementary School; and Diane Fontinell, library media specialist, Halstead Academy.
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