BILLINGS — Reading Rocks has become a summertime staple in Billings for many families who are trying to avoid the summer slide: when elementary-age kids lose reading level progress they’d made in school. Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the program hard, but it looks like they’re running on all cylinders again.
"This is a very positive first week for us," said Reading Rocks coordinator Madi Gilsdorf. "We were at CastleRock (Monday) - we had a ton of kids. Pioneer today. We have so many families - all of the blankets are full.”
Full of both new and returning families, like Crystal Oring and her literary-inspired son, D’artagnan.
“I really like when I come here and find the books I’ve always really wanted to get," said D'artagnan. "That’s what I’ve always liked about this place.”
“On his way here, he’ll be like, ‘I hope they have this book, or I hope they have this book!’ Crystal said. "If they don’t have that book, he’ll find something else that’s super exciting for him."
“It makes me excited about my night of reading," D'artagnan added.
He and his sisters have established quite a collection from Reading Rocks over the year - each kid gets to take home a book every week. It’s made reading a habit.
“It’s something that we do pretty much every night," Crystal said. "Sometimes they take the lead and will read me a story, and sometimes I’ll read to them.”
The Billings Education Foundation runs Reading Rocks concurrently with School District 2’s free lunch in the parks program that serves 45,000 meals each summer. Gilsdorf has seen noticeable growth in her three years with the group and hopes that trajectory continues.
“If kids read throughout summer, they maintain what they learned all school year long, so they don’t start off with a disadvantage, which is great."
"It is targeted for lower income families - everybody of course is welcome. Get a brand new book, it’s great.”
Reading Rocks is held eight times per week - twice each day - until July 22. Here is the weekly schedule, with each session running from 12:15-1:00 p.m.:
Monday: Orchard Elementary & Castle Rock Park
Tuesday: Central & Pioneer Park
Wednesday: Big Sky Elementary & Castle Rock Park
Thursday: Central & Pioneer Park