For most kids, no school is synonymous with all play. 

And while summer often gives students a much-needed break from classes, homework, extracurricular activities and the other responsibilities that go hand in hand with school, the long break can sometimes lead to a sluggish start the following school year. 

That's where special programming like the Summer Reading Program comes in, said Stephannie Interrante.

Interrante is the library specialist for adult programs and special events at the Maricopa Public Library. But as a former school librarian, she's also very familiar with the impact Summer Reading Programs can have when it comes to helping students transition into a new school year more seamlessly. 

"We're trying to combat a lot of that very typical 'summer brain drain' that's a problem when students go back to school," she said.  

Summer reading is about keeping skills students rely on during the school year, like language and reading, sharp. The summer-long event aims to get local students excited about reading. 

The Maricopa Public Library has seen participation in the event increase every year; the number of kids enrolled in the program each summer has steadily increased to about 800 in recent years — a figure that is constantly growing, said Interrante. 

"We always have more kids every year than we have had in the year past," she said. 

Typically running from early June through July, the program challenges young readers to log regular reading minutes over the summer break. The tiered program is organized this year in milestones of 1,200, 1,500, 1,800 and 2,000 minutes. Students earn prizes with each milestone they meet. 

And this year, prizes are expected to get bigger. Interrante noted that the Maricopa library will not be giving out a grand prize at the conclusion of the eight-week program this year to ensure that participants can earn more meaningful and fun prizes along the way.  

In previous years, prizes have included things like state park passes, passes for free access to the pool at the Copper Sky Recreational Complex, books and other goodies. Students also receive a prize for meeting their reading goal, which they determine at the start of the program. 

Though the library encourages students to read for about 20 minutes or more each day, goals are designed to be flexible, said Interrante, and are dependent on the age of each child. 

Summer reading is designed to be inclusive for all children between the ages of 0 and 17. Even if a child isn't able to read on their own yet, they can still participate, said Interrante; having a parent read to them still counts and gives parents an opportunity to help their younger children develop their early learning and language skills. 

"Even though in our library a kiddo has to be four in order to get a library card, we're not going to prevent anyone from earning prizes because they're reading to their little guys," she said. "That's what we want to see, is people interacting with their kids in that way, working on their literacy skills, working on their language, communication skills and all that good stuff." 

Beyond logging reading minutes and having the opportunity to win prizes, summer reading also aims to offer children fun and engaging activities hosted at the library. 

Speckled into the eight-week program is three performances hosted by the library designed to keep the program exciting for kids. 

In the past, guests have included acts like Wildman Phil, magicians, anime arts, BMX bikers and even the Step Up into TLC Clydesdales. 

For teen participants, the program strives to instill in them a love of reading for fun. It can also teach teens how to discuss literature with others outside of their home or the classroom, Interrante noted. 

Another way the program hopes to engage students is through an annual bookmark contest, which showcases the talents of three young artists selected as contest winners in each age group. 

Each year, the program highlights a new theme as the focal point of the summer reading events, bookmark contest and activities put on by the library. This year's theme is "Oceans of Possibilities."

"We try to really work with the theme and have kids learn things that go along with that theme for the year as well," said Interrante. 

The Maricopa library will usually host a kickoff for summer reading the weekend before the official start of the program. However, as of mid-March, Interrante noted that dates for this year's program were still being finalized. 

This year will mark the second Summer Reading Program hosted in the library's new building, but it is the first time in three years that the library will be able to put on a full-scale Summer Reading Program since the start of the pandemic. 

Although summer reading is usually the library's predominant focus during the June-July period, Interrante noted that one of the big benefits of the new building — thanks to the added space — is that it will ensure that other children's programing, like storytime, doesn't get canceled this year. 

"In years past we've actually canceled other children's programming in order to simply make space for summer reading," she said. "We will not be doing that this year." 

And though Summer Reading is the biggest focus for the library when it comes to children's programing in those months, it has plenty of activities going on for teens and adults as well. 

"(The library) is not just for kids — we've got stuff for teens, we've got stuff for adults and it's every day," said Interrante.

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