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Sugar House Journal

Students dive into summer reading with Ocean of Possibilities-themed challenge

Jul 01, 2022 09h11 ● By Lizzie Walie

By Lizzie Walje | [email protected]

Schools are out for summer, but at Salt Lake County Library branches, reading challenges are just getting started. Through July 31, students can participate in the Ocean of Possibilities summer reading event. For the past 30 years, the county library system has used the summer reading challenge to encourage and bolster young readership by incentivizing students to pick up books with the promise of prizes, rewards and celebrations at the finish line.

“Every year we host a kick-off party that ties into our theme and introduces the theme to participants. This year’s theme is Ocean of Possibilities, which has been particularly fun to conceptualize,” said Jeff Buydos, the PR coordinator of the Salt Lake County Library and one of the masterminds behind championing the summer reading event.

To further celebrate the Ocean of Possibilities theme, county branches have been decorated to reflect the mystique of the ocean. “If you come into one of our branches during the summer, you’ll see we’ve decorated accordingly, we were even able to get b-roll footage from The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium,” Buydos said.

Students and parents who visit the branches, in person, will learn more about the world’s oceans through fun facts, visuals and important messaging that speaks to the need for people to collectively work toward preserving the oceans.

“At its core, it’s really a way for us to integrate systems of learning with hands-on, fun activities for children,” Buydos said. “Kids will walk away having learned important lessons pertaining to the ocean, while simultaneously incorporating play and imagination into those lessons. Play is so vitally important for children, in the same way, that literacy is. We’re really looking at matters through a holistic lens.”

The summer reading event runs until July 31 and can be accessed and tracked in one of two ways. Students can either visit their local library and receive a physical tracking sheet, or they can use the library’s chosen tracking application, Beanstack. Beanstack is a mobile application that allows students to track their progress digitally, receiving real-time encouragement as they work toward meeting their reading goals. Students can enter the challenge at any point throughout its run time.

“One of the challenges of the library in recent years has been ingratiating technology into the format. Obviously, we want to keep a focus and emphasis on good old-fashioned books. However, the landscape of how we consume content has changed significantly,” Buydos said. “And so we’ve really worked hard to figure out how we can strike a balance that emphasizes reading as a classic tool for enrichment while still making way for modern technology like audiobooks, videos, music, virtual reality, things of that nature.”

The Beanstack application is yet another way for libraries to streamline reading practices and promote literacy using modern technology. The app was developed amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, providing another outlet for students to access the challenge without having to compromise social distancing safety nets. Now that the pandemic has begun to largely stabilize, in-person participation is yet again on the rise.

However, Buydos was still thoroughly impressed as he witnessed the turnout of students who continued to participate in the challenge, at the height of Covid social distancing. “We took a much-anticipated dip in our participation during those peak times of Covid, but even then, it was still an impressive turnout all things considered. This year, we can’t say anything definitively until the challenge is over, but we already know those numbers are trending upwards. The kick-off parties were certainly a sobering reminder of how invaluable social connection is.”

Especially during the summer, when it’s easy for boredom to take over and leave children in need of stimulation that is both fun and informative. “Our mission is to make a positive difference in our community, and Summer Reading is a great asset for fulfilling that mission,” said Salt Lake County Library Director Jim Cooper. “The benefits from this program at both the micro and macro levels have received empirical support. We know summer reading programs leave positive footprints wherever they’re implemented.”

Literacy serves as a gateway to so many important things, said Buydos. “Children who read can then take what they read and learn how to relate to others, how to empathize, and how to critically think. There’s also the bonus of rendering imagination and world creation. The possibilities are just endless.”

 In addition to the physical act of reading, the Ocean of Possibilities challenge also encompasses and rewards students who participate in different learning adjacent tasks.

“When you consider the many ways people can take part in summer reading, it really is an ocean of possibilities,” said Salt Lake County Library Program Manager Nyssa Fleig. “Beyond reading, participants can do things like paint, sew, visit local museums and parks, play sports or board games, start new clubs, and volunteer to complete their reading records. It’s an inclusive program with nearly infinite ways to participate.”