16 days can positively change a child’s life
Published 9:44 am Thursday, July 12, 2018
By Jeanna White
Second in a series
How much can 16 days change a child’s life?
One hundred twenty-one Davie County students are finding out as they attend this summer’s Read to Achieve Camp at Mocksville Elementary.
The camp is designed to help third-graders meet state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade. The intensive four-week camp also includes first and second graders who demonstrated the potential of reaching grade-level proficiency in reading with extra help in the summer. This year’s camp will serve 76 third-graders, 25 second graders, and 20 first graders.
With $99,000 provided by the Mebane Foundation combined with state funds, students attending the camp will learn through visual arts, drama, music, and creative writing, in addition to tailored instruction through Hill Center Reading sessions and small group literacy circles. The program is designed to help campers develop self-confidence and learn techniques to reduce test anxiety. This is the fifth year Davie’s successful RtA will use this holistic approach to reading.
Christy Cornatzer, camp curriculum coordinator, loves the multi-faceted approach.
“Students who have had difficulty learning through traditional methods, will be given opportunities to learn in nontraditional ways. We address all of the different intelligences through time outside, time moving their bodies, and time working with visual arts. Whatever their dominant learning style, we will touch on it during some part of the day.”
“We hope to build confidence in the students who are here, and we hope that they will return to their schools as stronger readers that can excel and have a successful year.”
During last summer’s camp, 24 percent of the county’s non-proficient third- graders reached the required reading achievement score to move on to fourth grade, and an additional 11 percent of those students passed the Read to Achieve test in the months following the camp. A total of 81 percent showed positive growth on one or more reading assessments; and 74 percent of the younger campers demonstrated significant growth over their initial scores on formative evaluations.
All students achieved a substantial increase in confidence, engagement, and stamina in approaching new learning experiences, teachers said.
“My daughter has been looking forward to the camp, and I think it will be a good opportunity for her,” said the mother of a second-grader.
One father said his son was nervous because he didn’t know anyone, but added: “This is going to be good for him. I think he will learn a lot and have a great time.”
“Word is starting to spread through the community about what we do,” said Jeremy Brooks, camp director. “We have parents who ask if their child can come back to camp for another summer even though they came the year before. We continue to add the finest teachers in Davie County, and our staff gets better and better each and every year. This is a who’s who of Davie County educators.
“Many of these students have a low perception of themselves as learners, so we take them through reading activities in a fun environment,” said Brooks. “We want them to have a good experience and to feel better about themselves as learners and to have a positive experience with reading so that they no longer see it as negative or a disappointment.”
The structure of the camp 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.
Each grade level’s lessons have a theme carried over to all aspects of camp. First graders are learning about families while the second graders are studying communities. Third graders are racing across North Carolina with units about the mountains, Piedmont, and coast which will give them advanced preparation for studying these topics in fourth-grade science and social studies.
This year, “informances” (impromptu performances that require no rehearsals) will allow students to further build confidence as they show their best work and share with each other what they’ve learned.
“Informances will be held a the end of each day to give students the opportunity to showcase something they are proud of,” said Cornatzer. “Although students aren’t required to participate, we will be encouraging everyone to do so. We hope it will help them build pride and confidence in what they are doing while also helping them connect literature and art.”
At the end of the fourth week, third-grade students will be allowed to retake the RtA Reading test, which is a form of the EOG.
Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum & instruction for Davie County Schools, attributes the continuing success of the camp to quality instruction by highly accomplished teachers, small student-teacher ratios, and the integration of the arts with literacy instruction.
“Implementation of the Hill Center Reading Achievement Program (Hill RAP) and A+ Schools during camp are extremely beneficial in enhancing reading skills and building confidence in emerging readers.”
Through Hill RAP, eight specially trained teachers guide groups of four students through exercises in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each student has an individualized curriculum to provide instruction where it is needed most.
A+ Schools combine interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts instruction, offering children opportunities to develop creative, innovative ways of thinking, learning and showing what they know, Lynde said. In A+ Schools, teaching the state’s mandated curriculum involves a collaborative, many-disciplined approach, with the arts continuously woven into every aspect of a child’s learning.
Developing highly effective students requires innovative, highly effective teachers. The heart of Davie’s RtA camp is its staff of passionate, dedicated educators. Each has been trained in the A+ Schools Arts Integrated Instruction program and has personally completed each and every assignment the students complete. In addition, those conducting Hill RAP sessions have previous experience teaching Hill reading methodologies. Most are RtA camp veterans who return each year because they are excited about the growth and success these students are experiencing, often for the first time, Lynde said.
“Read to Achieve Camp renews my love for teaching,” said Kerry Blackwelder, a reading specialist at Cooleemee Elementary who is teaching Hill Center groups for the fifth year. “We can look at each student, see how they learn and teach them in a style that best meets their needs.
“The students usually start out shy. They know the answers, but they are afraid to speak up,” Blackwelder said. “By the end of camp, they have gained confidence and become risk takers. When they come together here, they are one big melting pot. They discover that other students share their struggles, and they learn to love themselves for who they are. A lot of them cry on the last day.”
Many of the methods used in the Read to Achieve Camp are designed to be shared throughout the school system by these trained teachers. Schools and students county-wide can benefit because these teachers can take the training they receive each summer and their ideas and experiences back to their classrooms to share.
After 16 days, students leave camp believing in themselves and their abilities, Brooks said.
“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.”