During the 2015-2016 school year, fourth grade African American students at Joseph Williams Elementary School were at a 37 percent passing rate for reading, while white students in the same grade were passing at 98 percent.

In an effort to increase literacy rates among elementary school students, the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, in partnership with Gainesville Thrives and Innovative Dads, have started a new summer reading program called I-Read.

“Homework is not fun any time, but the kids lose progress when they aren’t doing anything for three months,” said Ben Dillard, recreation supervisor for the City of Gainesville.

Bookcases were designed and donated by the UF Rinker School of Construction Management. Students from the Panhellenic Council and other Greek organizations at UF will not only be volunteering for the program, but they also donated about 600 books to help make the program possible.

Some of the books donated were “I am Jackie Robinson” by Brad Meltzer, “Keena Ford and the Second-Grade Mix-Up” by Melissa Thomson and Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah” by Laurie Ann Thompson.

“The focus is on African American literature because these kids can look at these books and see themselves in them, and then they will be more eager to read,” said Gerard Duncan, the founder of Innovative Dads.

Books are first read aloud to the group so every child can hear the story, Dillard said. The children then work in small groups and read by themselves.

The program will be available at five summer camp locations: Albert “Ray” Massey Recreation Center, Eastside Community Center, Porters Community Center, Clarence R. Kelly Community Center and the Phoenix neighborhood.

The summer camp does have a fee of about $50 a week, Dillard said. However, about half of the students are on full-ride scholarships and a quarter of the students are on scholarships that cover half the costs.

“We have a real problem with (the) achievement gap,” Duncan said. “Minorities are less likely to be involved in the summer because they can’t afford (it).”

The Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department has already adopted I-Read into after school programs that will begin in August, Dillard said.

They hope the program expands to community housing, multi-family housing and free-standing libraries by fall. They would like to put the program in places that are accessible for all children, Duncan said.

“Every page we get to turn with them is going to help them to some degree,” Dillard said.