Small dollars, big impact

Fireflies Book Program

The Fireflies Summer Book Bag program aims to strengthen and maintain at-home learning.

Book bag program helps prevent ‘summer slide’

Each June, a group of Central Oregon elementary students start their summer with a colorful book bag stuffed full of new books, puzzles and games. The Fireflies Summer Book Bag program aims to strengthen and maintain at-home learning for K-5 students in Bend, Redmond and La Pine. More than 660 students from five elementary schools are expected to take book bags home in June 2023.

Fireflies is a program of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon, in collaboration with area school districts and supported by a Good Neighbor grant from The Ford Family Foundation. Its goal is to help students meet grade-level benchmarks for reading, reducing the achievement gap for low-income learners by the end of fifth grade.

“If we are to break the perpetuation of economic disadvantage, we need to improve the academic achievement of these students in elementary school, so they are prepared for success in middle and high school,” says John Horwich, director of the program.

A significant proportion of elementary school students in Central Oregon do not meet state standards for reading and math achievement during their elementary school years. This rate is higher for students from economically disadvantaged families. During summer months, when students are less exposed to regular educational activities, they may lose some of their academic skills. This is known as the “summer slide,” and there is strong evidence that addressing that issue can be one of the most effective measures to reduce the achievement gap in elementary school.

“One of the special parts of our program is that teachers select the materials for each student based on their reading interests and abilities,“ Horwich says.

“We give them the book bags and the funding, and the teachers that work with these students every day make sure they get the books and games that interest them.”

Each student receives a book bag that includes five new books, a blank journal, math or reading flash cards, and information for parents and caregivers on engaging with the materials. Schools identify students who would benefit from reading or math intervention supports.

“Fireflies provided our most struggling students with hope, connection and a bag of books to support their learning throughout the summer,” says Rayna Nordstrom, principal of M.A. Lynch Elementary in Redmond.

“Learning to read is the most valuable skill for our students to obtain.”



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