More than half of 4th graders in the United States are not proficient in reading. Illiteracy is strongly related to unemployment, poor health, and incarceration rates. Students reading below grade level at the end of third grade are four to six times more likely not to graduate from high school, which means their chances of continuing the cycle of poverty and the need for welfare for themselves, their children, and their communities are great.
In response to issues stemming from illiteracy, Gravatt partnered with the Diocese of Upper South Carolina to develop Camp Adventures in Reading (Camp AIR), which serves children completing 4th and 5th grade who have been identified by their teachers and guidance counselors as students who read below grade level and struggle with content knowledge and reasoning, effective verbal and written communication skills and making connections within or between content areas. This program is designed to sharpen reading confidence and skills in the fun setting of summer camp, and to instill in children a sense of joy in reading.
Camp AIR serves as a complement to the Read to Succeed Bill, which addresses a summer reading program for 3rd graders. After consultation with the Aiken County School District, we determined that Camp AIR would assist children who missed the opportunity for the 3rd grade program or who continued to fall below grade level even after that intervention.
In June 2015, sixteen children from East Aiken School of the Arts, Aiken Elementary, and Ridge Spring Elementary gathered for a week of fun and learning. They worked one-on-one and in small groups with three certified teachers and eight young adults who served as camp counselors as well as a number of volunteers. The reading theme of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was integrated throughout the activities of the week. Each day, the children stepped through a real wardrobe, made by Sarah and Jack Schwarz who attend Episcopal Church of the Ridge. Cabin groups were named for the book’s protagonists, Lucy, Susan, Edward, and Peter. Narnia night involved campers seeking out counselors dressed as the book’s characters and bringing them to Aslan for healing. The children tasted Turkish Delight (disgusting, they decided) while watching the movie. Art projects also centered around the book, and included making scenes out of cereal boxes, snowflakes, and lion’s masks. And of course, they read the book together.
Throughout the week, children were able to choose additional books of their liking from the “library,” and at the end of the week each child took home at least one dozen books. These books were selected by teachers as grade-level appropriate and purchased from Scholastic with a grant from the ECW Church Periodical Club.
Bishop Andrew Waldo visited the children one day of the session and read a chapter from the book to them. About Camp AIR, he said, “This is such a superb beginning – something we want to continue for a long time. It can have an impact in the lives of a lot of children.”
At this time, Camp AIR does not do pre- or post-tests with the participants. Children are selected by their schools because they read below grade level. It is our goal that participants experience reading as fun, gain confidence, and – as a result – want to read more. In telephone surveys of the participants’ parents and principals, we discovered that the majority of the students did improve their attitudes and increase their interest in reading. One mother told us that she couldn’t believe that for the remainder of the summer after Camp AIR, her son was actually choosing to read for pleasure – something he had not previously done.
We are incredibly grateful to the financial benefactors of Camp AIR, who made this first life-changing week possible. 2015 is only the beginning. We are seeking grants and donations to fund a second year of Camp AIR. The total cost of the 2015 program was $22K. Our budget for 2016, which will cover two weeks of camp serving total of 48 students from Aiken and Richland County schools, is ~$44K. This is more than double the number of students served last year. These funds cover paid professional teachers, a summer camp staff, three nutritious meals plus snacks each day, lodging, camp program activities including ropes course and swimming lessons, books, classroom supplies, and other supplies for two one week sessions. We will also be recruiting volunteers to get involved in the program.