Summer Reading Reaches New Heights

Woman stands with child on playground


Fifty-six books over four weeks. Jackson Ellis may have set a record at last summer’s Readers in the Heights (RITH), a literacy initiative, coordinated by United Way of San Diego County, that brings summer enrichment opportunities to elementary students in City Heights.

“It was shocking to us, too,” said his mother, Ann, “but he’s competitive; he was given a challenge.”

That challenge was collecting “book bucks”— a model used in collaboration with Traveling Stories, a partner program that helps kids fall in love with reading by offering incentives. The more books a student reads, the more “bucks” they earn; the more bucks they earn, the better the prize. By summer’s end, book bucks bring bonanzas from board games to basketballs. “Jackson was reading at home every night so he could get those book bucks!”

Readers in the Heights keeps students reading and learning all summer long, a time when many students regress because they’re out of school. Summer learning loss—or summer slide — puts students behind in reading achievement, which impacts their overall school success.

Jackson struggled in second and third grade, his mom said, “but now he’s become a more confident reader. Smoother, with better comprehension.” And he’s developed some bookish habits. “When we were getting ready for vacation, he packed books in case he had time. He also wrote in his journal during vacation.”

Summer 2019 was RITH’s fourth year of operation. United Way plans to use the motivational techniques learned here to help literacy in other parts of the county soon.

Meanwhile, Ann is grateful for the support it offers and has already signed up Jackson’s younger sister for the summer program. “You have to start kids early. I encourage parents to take advantage of these opportunities, like Readers in the Heights. It really does take a village — you can’t do it by yourself.”

What did the tall fifth grader get when he cashed in his book bucks, anyway? Jackson grins. “A basketball!”