Use It or Lose It: PLDL pays Market Bucks to keep students reading in summer

Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette Portage Lake District Library Director Dillon Geshel holds one of the Market Bucks incentive for the library’s summer reading program. The vouchers can be used for items at the Houghton Farmers Market.

HOUGHTON — Many teachers, especially elementary school teachers, worry every summer that their students won’t read during vacation, which could lead to what is called the “summer slide,” according to Dillon Geshel.

Geshel, director of the Portage Lake District Library, said the summer slide can cause some students to lose some of their reading ability, which they might not be able to recover.

Like many public libraries, the PLDL has a summer reading program, which is intended to keep children reading during the summer but is also open to adults, Geshel said.

“The goal is to keep children and families reading throughout the summer,” he said. “When the summer reading program first started in libraries, it was focused on children preventing the summer slide, so they’re still reading when they’re not in school.”

Geshel said the program at the PLDL has been going on for many years, but this year there is an incentive involving Market Bucks, which young readers can use at the Houghton Farmers Market located on the parking deck in front of the library at 58 Huron St. in Houghton every Thursday.

Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette The Portage Lake District Library’s summer reading program provides Market Bucks vouchers for participants to use at the Houghton Farmers Market.

“There’s certain reading benchmarks,” he said. “If a young reader reads so many books, they get their first prize and so on.”

The Market Bucks prize is the final incentive for the program, Geshel said. The voucher allows a child to get $5 worth of food items at the Farmers Market.

“The library, for many years, has focused on health literacy and healthy eating,” he said. “For us, (the Market Bucks vouchers) is just another way to expand it in a tangible way.”

As of the first week in July, Geshel said there were almost 700 adult and children participants in the summer reading program. All ages qualify to receive the Market Bucks vouchers.

The Market Bucks program is made possible by a grant from the Portage Health Foundation, Geshel said. The program lasts as long as the Farmers Market is in operation, which is until sometime in October.

According to the website, learning or reading skills lost during a summer when a child doesn’t read is accumulative and can lead to a widening gap between those students who are proficient readers and those who aren’t proficient.

Scholastic is a company, which produces educational material for children.

Children who read four or more books over the summer do better on reading comprehension tests when they go back to school in the autumn, according to Reading as a leisure activity is the best predictor of comprehension, vocabulary and reading speed.

According to the National Summer Learning Association website,, “Summer learning loss, the phenomenon where young people lose academic skills over the summer, is one of the most significant causes of the achievement gap between lower and higher income youth and one of the strongest contributors to the high school dropout rate. For many young people, the summer “opportunity gap” contributes to gaps in achievement, employment and college and career success. These reading and math losses add up. By fifth grade, summer learning loss can leave low-income students 2 1/2 to 3 years behind their peers.”

Geshel said the Market Bucks incentive program began at the PLDL last summer, but the vouchers were for $3 and available to children only then. The increase to $5 and the availability to children and adults was made possible by the grant from Portage Health Foundation.

Other prizes besides Market Bucks offered during the summer reading program include a free ice cream cone for children from LB’s Chill and Grill, a day pass to the Michigan Technological University Student Development Complex, and a free book.

For the children taking part in the summer reading program, Geshel said parents initial for each book a child reads.

“They write the title and the parent or caregiver initials to say the kid read the book on their own,” he said. “For adults, it’s just an honor system.”

Geshel said studies have shown the “summer slide” is a real phenomenon with possibly serious effects, and is not just a seasonal thing.

“It can permanently reduce their capacity to read,” he said. “It’s not just a temporary setback.”

The Portage Lake District Library telephone number is 482-4570.