Books for Bikes Tackles Summer Slide

Summer is a time for fun, but also a time for potential learning loss.

Most children look forward to summer as a chance to enjoy the warm weather and time with their friends, but along with the fun of summer many children experience learning loss, also known as the Summer Slide. This slide is characterized by students losing up to 2 months of learning from the previous school year. Ultimately, by the fifth grade many students are up to 3 years behind in skills as compared to students who do participate in summer learning activities on a consistent basis.

Ready.Set.READ! (RSR) is a community-wide initiative managed by United Way to improve early grade reading success. The program is designed to support students who are struggling to be proficient readers by securing the involvement of schools, businesses, organizations, and volunteers.

What is United Way doing to help prevent Summer Slide?

In addition to providing grants to summer learning programs throughout the county, United Way combats summer learning loss through the Books for Bikes program.

Books for Bikes was the innovation of Customers Bank CEO Dick Ehst, who wanted to inspire local children to read by rewarding them with new bikes and helmets. The program was first announced as part of the 2016 Ready.Set.READ! Day at the Fightins, which resulted in awarding six bikes to students who had completed the reading requirements.

The following year, United Way suggested creating a formalized Books for Bikes program that would motivate the children in the Oakbrook Community, mostly Millmont Elementary students, to participate in literacy activities over the summer months to combat the Summer Slide. As a reward for completing program requirements, each child earns a free bike and helmet sponsored by Customers Bank. To date, 211 students have earned a bike and helmet for completing 75% of the program, equivalent to attending 30 of the 40 days.

Mary Jimenez, who manages Books for Bikes, enjoys seeing the kids excited about reading. “My favorite part of the program is the KIDS.  They are awesome and always willing to learn something new. Their excitement about reading is readily apparent by the end of the program. We have had many begin to love reading and ask to read more at home. We have had children gain new skills. When I’m in the neighborhood as a part of other community activities, it makes me smile when the children call out and ask me when the program will begin again.”

Has COVID-19 impacted this program?

During the height of the pandemic, United Way expanded the program to partner with the YMCA Reading Branch and Alvernia University to increase the number of children given the chance to earn while they learn. The program was virtual in all locations, except the YMCA, which was held in person through their summer camp and PreK Counts programs.

As Book for Bikes kicks off this year, it is more important than ever to get kids back in the habit of reading and learning over the summer months, since most children attended school virtually.  We are excited to continue to provide the children with the opportunity to engage with their peers while participating in literacy activities that are fun and engaging in an outdoor safe environment.

How do I learn more about Books for Bikes?

You can learn more about Books for Bikes by visiting the Summer Learning page on the RSR website. Mary Jimenez, Early Childhood and Community Engagement Program Manager, can be contacted via email at