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Summer Meals Program distributes books during iRead/iFeed

SALISBURY — In just 13 days in June, Rowan-Salisbury Schools distributed 8,380 free breakfasts, 16,025 free lunches and 868 free snacks to children and teenagers across the county.

And while these numbers continue to tick upward at rapid rates in July, another big outreach was launched Wednesday: the system’s third annual iRead/iFeed initiative, in which the literacy team distributes free books to children participating in the Summer Meals Program.

An elementary student heads home with his new books in tow.

The year, iRead/iFeed provided two to five free books to 1,200 students across the county.

“It’s really an effort to put books in the hands of our students that may not have lots of libraries at home,” said elementary lead teacher Crystal Merck. “We’re providing books they can read with their parents, their siblings. They’re theirs to keep — they don’t have to worry about taking them back a library or to the school.”

By providing books and the resulting opportunities for summer reading, Merck said the school system is helping foster improved student performance when school resumes in August.

“The more time in text that students have, the less the summer slide,” she said, adding that the books provide a way to bridge the gap until the start of a school year.

Students didn’t take their computer devices — iPads or Macbooks — home over the summer break, meaning they didn’t have access to the digital libraries they did in the fall and spring semesters.

Putting books in their hands ensures opportunities for literacy prevail no matter a student’s circumstance.

The number of books received depends on the child’s age. Elementary students and those younger receive as many as five because of the books’ size and length. Middle and high schoolers receive fewer as larger books were introduced into the mix.

According to Merck, the program has been funded through a combination of grants, Title I funds and community donations — though this year no grants were received.

“It was all provided through local funds,” she said. “Folks are really passionate about the work that we’re doing in the area.”

Books are a mixture of new purchases and gently used donations from people across the county —  though Merck said the system works to ensure that each student gets a minimum of two new books.

Merck said new purchases are meant to match student interests in terms of content, from sharks and graphic novels to particular and sought-after authors.

“It’s a really great program to watch these students develop relationships with the folks that feed them,” said Merck. “They know who we are, they look out for us each year.”

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