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VOL. 133 | NO. 118 | Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Summer Camp Fun Comes With Lots of Literacy Planning

By Bill Dries

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The lunchroom tables at Bartlett Elementary School are stacked in the hallway, and from the outside it looks like the school is awaiting students’ return in August.

But inside, a small group of first- through third-graders are dancing, pasting strips of colored paper on plastic bottles, and most importantly, reading and writing.

The four-week Read to Be Ready summer camp at Bartlett Elementary School is a state funded camp for low-income students that includes field trips, cultural experiences, lots of writing and reading, a trip to get a library card, at least a dozen free books for each student and lots of coordination around making gains in literacy for the students over the summer. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

Bartlett Elementary is one of 253 elementary schools across the state holding a four-week Read to be Ready Summer Camp funded by grants from a $30 million pool of state funding over a three-year period that is in its second year.

And while there are a lot of giggles and fun field trips, all of it has a very specific purpose.

“There‘s a lot of planning and a lot of thought about the training that went into getting here and all of the connections to the community members that you want to be engaged in this work,” said Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen after she toured the school Monday, June 11, and talked with teachers and school system officials.

The state grants pay for reading camps that run at least four hours a day for four weeks and are aimed at low-income students. Each student must get at least a dozen free books, and the grants also helps pay for the field trips. Parental involvement also is required.

“What you can do in the summer that‘s somewhat different than what can do in a class period is connect to all of these experiences that help kids build their knowledge. So there had to be an investment in experiences – field trips or bringing people to kids where they might not otherwise have an opportunity,” she said. “We know across the state many kids don’t ever go to a museum. They don’t go to the zoo. They don’t have someone from the ballet come into their school and actually connect to the culture of a particular community. And we require this as part of the grant and are able to fund those.”

In the empty lunchroom, a boy who had watched the 13 other children around him dance with abandon reluctantly paired off with a girl in an exercise led by a New Ballet Ensemble dancer where one mirrors the moves of the other.

With flamenco music playing, he slowly and gracefully raised one arm, then the other, while looking at her. He lowered them just as slowly as the girl watched his arms and followed.

Over the girl’s shoulder, the pace between two girls was more frenetic, with the girl leading coming up with more elaborate motions until her partner put hands to her mouth and began giggling.

“What you didn’t see is we’re engaging them with talking,” said Lee Loft, co-director of the camp at Bartlett Elementary. “Everything relates to a book.”

That includes discussions during the breakfast served at the school.

“We’re using every moment to count,” Loft said. “Everything relates back to the story they have read.”

The four-week camp includes a trip to the Bartlett branch library so students who don’t already have a library card can get one. Through a donation, each student also gets a $20 gift card for Barnes and Noble to spend on even more books.

“There also had to be a commitment to experiences and building kids’ knowledge around components and content like science, culture,” McQueen said. “And they are able to connect the books back to the experiences and work that they did during summer camp.”

Loft said some of the most treasured items from the camp are the journals the students keep over the four weeks. She and others told McQueen parents read the journals later and frequently have commented on what they discovered about their children in what is another part of the curriculum designed to including writing in the goal of literacy.

A group of six second-graders gave a “book theater” presentation to McQueen and the other adult visitors to their classroom, highlighting a book they read about Africa. The presentation is an oral book report with sound effects that included “rain sticks” – a cylinder with popcorn kernels inside made by the students.

The students, whose feet barely touched the floor or didn’t touch it at all, sat at desks in a line across one end of the classroom, nervously looking at each other as the adults filed in. There was no excessive shaking of the rain stick beyond what the narration called for, no tambourine shake that was out of the rhythm of telling the story.

“This really started as how do we accelerate learning during a period of time where kids can not only lose ground, but they are certainly not engaged to gain ground,” McQueen said. “So we said we need to gain ground.”

“Without the grant, it would be a challenge,” Bartlett Schools superintendent David Stephens told McQueen. “It’s being intentional with integrating the arts. There’s a method to the madness.”

Over the summer, teachers across the state are being trained in fine arts state standards that take effect when the new school year starts in August.

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