Read to Achieve again a success

Published 10:00 am Thursday, August 17, 2017

By Jeanna White

For the Enterprise

Sixteen days can change a life and a future.

Ask the 120 students who attended Davie County’s summer 2017 Read to Achieve Camp.

Many who had been reluctant to attend were sorry to see it end. Some, who had never experienced academic success, did so for the first time. All received a new level of confidence in their ability to succeed during the coming school year.

The camp is designed to help third graders who have not met state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade, as mandated by the N.C. Department of Instruction. The camp also included first and second graders who demonstrated the potential of reaching grade-level proficiency in reading with extra help in the summer.

As in the past three years, this year’s camp was a success. More than 24 percent of the county’s non-proficient third-graders reached the required reading achievement score to move on to fourth grade. Additional students are expected to pass the Read to Achieve test in the months following camp. A total of 81 percent showed positive growth on one or more reading assessments.

The third graders were not the only campers to blossom.

Preliminary DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) results indicate strong gains, with 74 percent of first and second grade campers making growth in reading fluency.

“While a 24 percent success rate may not seem extraordinary to people not close to education, and more specifically the Read to Achieve program, that rate has historically been far better than those being reported by the majority of school systems in North Carolina,” said Larry Colbourne, president, Mebane Charitable Foundation, which provided a grant of more than $99,000 to support the 2017 summer camp.

Since 2014, the foundation has invested more than $338,000 in partnering with Davie County Schools to fund the intensive four-week camp.

According to the camp’s director, Jeremy Brooks, the consistent level of success is beginning to cause educators across the state to take notice. Other school systems have begun to call him asking questions about the program and one school system sent representatives to observe.

Davie’s Read to Achieve Camp employs a holistic, arts-based approach to reading. Attendees actively learn through visual arts, dance, drama, music and creative writing, in addition to tailored instruction through Hill Center Reading Achievement Program sessions (Hill Rap) and small group literacy circles designed to develop self-confidence and learn techniques to reduce test anxiety.

“I believe using the arts in our approach to the Read to Achieve Camp makes us quite unique,” said Brenda Mosko, who taught drama during the camp. “We have incorporated many of the techniques used in the A+ Schools model for education in our camp. This enriched atmosphere creates magic for our students. During the year, our children receive their arts classes only once a week, but at camp they are nurtured in the arts on a daily basis.

“Our camp integrates art, music, drama and dance into our main theme each week as we race across North Carolina from the mountains in week one to the coast in week four. Our teachers find material that seamlessly weaves reading into each art form,” she said.

“Arts integration uses teaching practices that have been shown in brain-based research to improve comprehension and long-term retention. For example, when students create stories, pictures, or other nonverbal expressions of the content they are learning – a process researchers call elaboration – they are also helping to better embed the information.”

“From the first day of camp to the last, we work to not only build up our children’s reading confidence but also their self-esteem. We start with a daily warm up in the gym to get our mind and body prepared for a day filled with learning. Each child completes a child-friendly multiple intelligences inventory based on the work of Howard Gardner. Through this inventory, each child discovers which of the multiple intelligences are their strongest.  They also find that they truly are smart. Once they realize this very important fact, their outlook on camp and the test changes dramatically,” she said.

A Recipe for Success

The structure creates excitement. Students aren’t used to singing, dancing, and rapping during a regular school day.

The camp day begins at 8 a.m. with a short combined session focused on goal setting for the day. Students are divided into small groups with an average ratio of 14 students per teacher except when students are in Hill RAP sessions at the four to one ratio. The student’s day is divided between Hill Rap sessions, writing to learn sessions, art and reading sessions, testing stamina sessions, music/theatre and verbal expression sessions, and diagnostic reading clinic sessions. Each session lasts approximately 45 minutes. Each day ends at 2:45 p.m.

Campers experienced 128 hours of instruction with more than 28 hours spent in individual learning sessions with three to four students in the group.

Students had computer lab time to work with a program called myON, which offers a high interest reading experience tailored to a student’s level and individual needs. The program allowed them to build vocabulary and score points for the number of books that they read at camp, on a digital device at home, or on a computer at the public library.

Each grade level benefited from a partnership with the Davie County Public Library through which they enjoyed a weekly story time with Julie Whitaker from the library staff.

Students thrived on outdoor time during their activity/lunch time with their YMCA counselors, who serve as Davie County Schools teachers assistants during the school year.

Informal performances and “sharings” were held routinely throughout the camp. Students often begged to be able to perform for their peers which was another indication of their growing self-confidence as these performances often involved memorizing lines, playing musical instruments, or presenting a dance that they had choreographed with a small group.

Camp closed with a large all-camp celebration of the themes of Native American culture which recognized each camper as a valued member of the tribe.  Students sang, played musical instruments, performed traditional ceremonial dances, and shared their art exhibits. This was not a traditional performance, but what A+ Schools refers to as an “informance” that is held without the pressure of adults and families watching, but is solely for students to share their creations with each other.

A+ camp/A+ teachers

Developing highly effective students requires innovative, highly-effective teachers. The heart of Davie’s RtA camp is its staff of passionate, dedicated educators, Colbourne said. Each has been trained in the A+ Schools Arts Integrated Instruction program. In addition, those conducting Hill RAP sessions are experienced in teaching Hill reading methodologies.

“We have awesome teachers in this program,” said Jeremy Brooks.  “We have National Board certified teachers, teachers of the year, teachers with a lot of experience, and teachers who genuinely care about kids and know how to nurture them and work with them in the summertime when they aren’t exactly eager to be at school.”

Most are RtA camp veterans who return each year because they are excited about the growth and success these students are experiencing. Lauren Reith and Noel Grady-Smith scheduled their retirement dates around being able to teach at this summer’s camp.

Grady-Smith and Reith are two of the camp’s 27 educators from across Davie County.

Others include: Suzie Alonzo, Hill Center (Cornatzer); Shelly Bryans, teacher assistant; Kerry Blackwelder, Hill Center (Cooleemee); Brooks, North Davie; Kim Brooks, reading coach (Cornatzer); Mary Lynn Bullins, reading coach (Cornatzer); Kilby Church, first grade reading coach (Pinebrook); Christy Cornatzer, Hill Center (Cornatzer); Lori Culler, reading coach (Pinebrook); Leigh Ann Davis, reading coach (Pinebrook); Regina Dzybon, second grade reading coach (Shady Grove); Shannon Eggleston, reading coach (William R. Davie); Michael Errickson, third Grade Art TA (Cornatzer); Angelina Etter, first grade Hill Center (Mocksville); Suzie Hecht, second grade Hill Center (Mocksville); Jenny Kimel, first grade reading coach ( William R Davie); Mindy Ledbetter, first and second grade art (Davie High School); Brenda Mosko, drama (William Ellis/South Davie); Anna Newman, music (North Davie); Erin Penley, first and second grade music (Pinebrook); Dana Roberts, art (South Davie); Alma Rosas, Hill Center (William R. Davie); Raymonda Shelton, assistant RtA director (William R Davie); Kolleen Sullivan, Hill Center (Shady Grove); Julie West, second grade reading coach (Shady Grove).

“The Mebane Foundation has provided resources and staff support for our students in Read to Achieve Camp that would not be possible with the limited state funding provided for summer camps,” said Dr. Darrin Hartness, superintendent of Davie County Schools. “The students attending camp are receiving a personal learning experience enhanced by the arts. Additional specialized teaching staff blend individual reading instruction and the arts. This fun-filled experience leads to improved reading fluency and comprehension, which affects a student’s performance in all other subjects. The professional development and new skills our camp teachers incorporate into summer camp carryover into their schools across the district throughout the school year.”

The camp builds more than academic success. Students leave camp believing in themselves and their abilities.

“It’s more than reading lessons, it’s more than the arts, it’s teachers instilling confidence in kids and making them feel successful every day so that when they go take that test their confidence is through the roof,” Brooks said. “It’s growing a mindset in kids in four weeks that when you retake the reading test you will be fine, you can pass this, and you will pass this test.”

“We provide 16 days of success so that the test is no longer such a big deal and the students have the resilience and confidence to make it through,” Brooks said.