Gaining Ground helps kids avoid the ‘summer slide’

Kirby Mackenzie, librarian and assistant director of Gaining Ground Literacy, and Gaining Ground director Lisa Shotts, a fourth-grade teacher and the 2019 District Teacher of the Year for Union Public Schools. Gaining Ground operates a mobile library from a repurposed school bus, which travels across Tulsa during the summer, bringing books to children.

More grade-schoolers will enjoy the pleasures of reading on a lazy summer afternoon, thanks to Gaining Ground Literacy, a nonprofit devoted to helping children who don’t have access to summer reading materials.

Founded in 2017, Gaining Ground will provide 25,000 books to 2,000 students this summer. The nonprofit currently serves students in Tulsa and Broken Arrow who attend Gilcrease Elementary and Unity Learning Academy in Tulsa Public Schools and McAuliffe and Ellen Ochoa Elementary schools in the Union school district.

Gaining Ground visits its partner schools monthly during the academic year, providing free books, building relationships and helping maintain reading habits. Throughout the summer, the Gaining Ground Bus — a mobile library — makes stops in every student’s neighborhood, where the kids can swap their books for new reads. Students also have weekly opportunities to write about their reading and hear read-alouds.

Founder and director Lisa Shotts, who teaches fourth grade at Ochoa, conceived the successful formula to put a stop to the "summer slide" — the notion that students lose reading or other skills that aren’t cultivated over summer break.

And the program is working. Children who participated 5-10 times last summer maintained their reading level or improved.

According to Shotts and Assistant Director Kirby Mackenzie, the librarian at Ochoa, it’s crucial the books are current, interesting and in great condition because children are more likely to read if they’ve chosen their own books.

"We want to be one of the pillars in their life that’s communicating to them, ‘You deserve brand-new, you deserve the best of the best, and you deserve the thing you want,’" Mackenzie says. "And what better way to do that than with books?" 

New this summer, Gaining Ground Literacy will provide families with activities to do at home via its Facebook page. It also will offer tutoring services at its two Tulsa Public Schools for select students. For more information, visit



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