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Three years ago, the Department of Public Instruction launched the first statewide Give Five – Read Five campaign because research from Harvard revealed that students who read just five books over the summer saw a reduction in summer learning loss. As a part of this effort, each year we encourage schools, districts, businesses, nonprofits and other stakeholders to hold local book drives from April to June. Right before the end of the school year, all of these books are then distributed to students so they have access to quality reading material over the summer.

That first year, we saw districts, schools and community partners come together to collect more than 123,000 books for students in 74 elementary schools. In 2014, our success doubled as more than 277,000 books were collected and distributed to students from 150 public schools in 53 districts. And last year was our best year yet with more than 546,000 books collected. These books went home with students from 276 schools in 71 districts.

In taking stock of the cumulative impact of NC’s Give Five – Read Five campaign, I am proud to say that this effort has helped to put nearly one million books in the hands of students since 2013. But more significant than these numbers is the enthusiasm and joy I have seen among principals, teachers, and community partners as they watch students select their own new books to take home at the end of the school year and keep forever.

I have attended many school and community celebrations over the years in which donated books are distributed to excited students. These events bring all the magic and happiness of Christmas morning to all of those who are involved. Perhaps that is why we have seen so many schools, districts, churches, businesses and nonprofit groups embrace the spirit of Give Five – Read Five and work together to make wonderful things happen for our young learners.

In the second year of the campaign, for example, a team of just five middle and high school students from a church in Garner collected, stored, sorted and distributed more than 27,000 books to eight local elementary schools. You can read more inspiring stories here about teachers, school leaders and others from counties across the state who have conducted their own book drives, opened school libraries for summer story time and spent their vacation running bookmobiles to make sure students in their local communities had access to reading material while they were away from the classroom.

Earlier this month, we kicked off the 2016 Give Five – Read Five campaign. We know that schools and communities will again come together to conduct book drives and other efforts to reduce summer learning loss by providing books to students. But this year, we thought it was time to do a little something more.

That is why DPI has partnered with myON, a division of Capstone, to offer every public school student across the state access to thousands of digital book titles that they can download to their own digital device for free over the summer by using the myON Reader online literacy tool. This tool also can track how many pages and hours students spend reading and measure students’ literacy growth. School district superintendents and curriculum coordinators can register with myON to ensure students in all schools across the state have access to the tool.

This is excellent news for our students and our state. This campaign could have never grown like it has over the past four years without the support of outstanding partners such as myON as well as MetaMetrics, Achieve3000, Reading Horizons, the North Carolina Campus Compact, Book Harvest and Communities In Schools of North Carolina, and I am so grateful for their continued support.

I am hopeful that many districts will connect with myON in the next month or so to ensure that their students have access to free digital books this summer in addition to the books collected in local book drives. And I encourage districts, schools and community partners to visit the Give Five – Read Five website for more information about our campaign and tools that will help you conduct your own local book drives. Thanks to Give Five – Read Five and your support, I am certain that more students than ever will start a new school year better prepared to learn.

Dr. June Atkinson

June Atkinson is the state superintendent of public instruction for North Carolina. Read her full profile here >>