By Dr. Beth Gotcher, kindergarten teacher, Maryville City Schools
During the summer, while many students were far from their classrooms, 15 students in Maryville were in the middle of their writer’s workshop. The Maryville City Schools district had been fortunate enough to receive a Read to be Ready Summer Grant from the Tennessee Department of Education, which paved the way for a wonderful learning opportunity for both teachers and students. During the camp, I had the privilege of serving as the Camp Director at John Sevier Elementary. As an educator now in my twelfth year of teaching, my experiences teaching kindergarten, second, and fourth grade were extremely beneficial in working with my staff to create meaningful learning experiences for our students. As I reflect back on our Ready to be Ready summer experience, I’m reminded of six key takeaways that could benefit those who are thinking of leading future Read to be Ready Camps.
- Committed Staff: As educators, we all know the importance of quality teaching and that is certainly true at Ready to be Ready camps, too. Even before camp, our teachers were excited for this program. Each day, the teachers arrived ready to go and remained positive and committed throughout the entire camp experience. Having staff buy-in on the front-end went a long way to creating student buy-in. At the conclusion of camp, each teacher expressed a desire to reapply for the grant and was already committed to being a part of the camp next summer.
- Intentional Student Selection: Over the summer, students are at risk for losing some of their academic skills and knowledge. This is commonly known as the “summer slide,” and this risk is even greater for our low-income students. Our school elected to target rising third grade students who were most at-risk for summer slide based on assessments such as STAR Reading and Case 21. Feedback from the students’ current teachers was collected to further identify those who would most benefit from the camp. To encourage daily attendance, bus transportation was provided along with breakfast and lunch for all students.
- Purposeful Planning: We planned the camp intentionally to ensure the experience was engaging and meaningful for students, from the name of the camp to the daily activities. Since a common theme of discussion among camp teachers was a desire to promote a love for reading and the adventures students can experience through books, we decided on the name of Camp Seeker. In addition, time was devoted to selecting a curriculum that would support this vision. Scholastic Lit Camp was chosen as the curriculum, and materials included twenty texts representing a variety of genres and cultures. Each day one of the texts was used for an interactive read-aloud and corresponding writer’s workshop focus. Each student received a copy of the book to keep which promoted interest in reading, even at home.
- Meaningful Field Trips: To support our theme of Camp Seeker and promote a continued love for reading beyond the camp, we took weekly field trips to our public library. Students had the opportunity to check out self-selected books. Many students were amazed with the number of choices available and the realization that they were able to choose any book they wanted. It was amazing to see their excitement for reading grow firsthand. Parents were encouraged to continue library trips with their child after camp.
- Parent Buy-In: Parent response to our program was phenomenal! Our daily camp attendance averaged over 95%, and many students did not miss a single day! At the conclusion of camp, we hosted a family celebration including lunch and a student share of a writing sample. At the celebration, many parents shared they were worried about their child’s motivation to participate in the program over the summer but that their child woke up each morning ready and excited to attend.
- Student Engagement: In addition to daily reading and writing, students also participated in hands-on learning opportunities. Examples included balloon popping with sequencing, creating their own tennis shoes for creative writing, and designing and testing their own airplanes in conjunction with a study of Orville and Wilbur Wright. These hands-on activities promoted student engagement and involvement.
From start to finish, Camp Seeker was a truly wonderful experience for our students, families, and teachers. It was amazing to see students so excited about learning during the summer. Our hope is to reapply for the grant next year and expand this opportunity to more students. As we think ahead, we’ll consider the reading scores of students who participated to determine how the program was effective in decreasing the summer slide. Based on our school’s positive experience with the Read to be Ready camp, I would encourage fellow educators across the state to apply for this amazing opportunity.