The Kentucky Department of Education is launching a statewide marketing campaign to encourage families to read with kids this summer. The initiative is also offering targeted support for several rural school districts.

With the “Stride Don’t Slide” campaign, the Department is working to combat so-called summer slide — the idea that kids can fall behind in math and reading if they don’t practice over the summer.

“Quite frankly, I think this is the most exciting thing we’ve done in my little over a year here at the Kentucky Department of Education,” Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis told an audience at the state board of education’s last regular meeting.

The initiative includes a social media and billboard campaign to encourage parents and children to read together 20 minutes a day. KDE also built a website with resources for summer learning activities. And at seven school districts, state education officials are showing up to read to students and hand out free books to families who attend summer lunch programs offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It’s an opportunity to not only feed their bodies but their minds,” said Deputy Education Commissioner Amanda Ellis, who helped organize the campaign.

Ellis said she considered the campaign’s first stops to lunch sites in far Eastern Kentucky a success.

“The children who were there, all were eager to listen to a book, or two or three,” Ellis said. “Some asked to be read to again, and the families, they didn’t walk away, they sat and listened to the books.”

According to Ellis, the Department of Education would like to expand the program to more counties next year, but was limited by funding and district interest this year. State officials chose ten districts to receive the visits, based on their location and reading scores, and seven districts decided to participate.

Ellis said she would encourage other school districts that operate summer feeding programs to implement a similar program on their own.

“You know, this is not difficult, it’s just taking the time to do so,” Ellis said.

Jefferson County Public Schools spokeswoman Renee Murphy said the district offers a book buggy program to distribute books during June in conjunction with the district’s Bus Stop Cafes that bring lunch to children throughout the summer.

The Department of Education is also distributing about 1,200 free books as part of the Stride Don’t Slide initiative. Here’s where they’ll be.  Anyone who would like to donate books to support the program can contact the Kentucky Department of Education.