Ely's summer reading program earns statewide recognition

Iowa Literacy Award given to organizations that contribute to the literacy of Iowans

Kamryn Westphal (right) reads aloud to volunteer Cynthia Dunham during the Reading Support program at the Ely Public Lib
Kamryn Westphal (right) reads aloud to volunteer Cynthia Dunham during the Reading Support program at the Ely Public Library. The program is aimed at helping elementary school students maintain their reading levels during summer break. This program was recognized by the Iowa Center for the Book, which presented the Ely Public Library with the 2019 Iowa Literacy Award this past month. (Photo courtesy of Ely Public Library)

ELY — Every summer, the Ely Public Library becomes a hub of activity.

Youth services librarian Tracy Clair said if a person would walk in during the week, they would see young children reading all over the building, sitting in chairs and on the floor and in the back room.

And many of them would be reading aloud to an adult volunteer. These elementary school students were taking part in an annual reading program aimed at helping them combat the “summer slide,” or the common loss of skills during the summer break from school.

This hub of activity, created by Ely Public Library to help maintain these students’ reading levels for the next school year, was recognized this past month with the Iowa Literacy Award. The annual recognition is presented by the Iowa Center for the Book, a program within the State Library of Iowa and an affiliate of the Library of Congress Center for the Book.

The Iowa Literacy Award is given to organizations that have made “outstanding contribution to increasing literacy in Iowa,” according to a news release from the State Library of Iowa.

“Research shows that kids who maintain reading skills over the summer are more successful in school,” Nancy Medema, coordinator for the Iowa Center for the Book, said in the news release. “This is a perfect way for Ely Public Library to show its commitment to the community. We are thrilled that this program is supported by the library and dedicated volunteers who are committed to helping students succeed.”

Created five years ago by Sarah Sellon, director of the Ely Public Library, the Reading Support program is targeted to students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The program is limited to 15 students a day.

Becky Showalter, a retired reading teacher from College Community School District and a former volunteer for the Reading Support program, nominated Ely Public Library for the award. She said if children go all summer without using their reading skills, they often forget what they’ve learned in the classroom.


“They lose so much ground that way,” Showalter said. “That’s why a program like this is so beneficial to the kids, to teachers and to their parents, too.”

Ely library officials say they are the first public library to receive this award.

For that honor, they were given $2,000 to further their effort in the future.

Clair said the library hopes to use the funding to replace old or worn books used for the program. She noted the library uses College Community School District’s curriculum, as most of the reading program’s participants go to school in that district.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized,” Clair said. “We always knew what we were doing was good, but for everyone else to get to hear about this is great.”

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