June 14, 2018
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
The Tennessee Department of Education set a goal to have 75 percent of all third-graders reading at their grade level by 2025.
And the annual summer Read to be Ready program is one component in reaching that goal.
This summer, 180 students are participating in the four-week camp at five Rutherford County Schools.
Christiana Elementary is participating for the second consecutive year, while Rock Springs, Rockvale and Stewartsboro elementary schools and Thurman Francis Arts Academy are participating for the first time. The camp is open to rising first- through third-graders.
This year, the Tennessee Department of Education awarded more than $8.8 million for the program to schools throughout the state.
The grant money pays for materials used for STEM activities, fieldtrips, guest speakers, writing materials, journals and so that every child who participates receives a minimum of 12 children’s books to take home.
The curriculum at Rockvale calls for kids to receive 17 books.
“It’s hard work, but it’s worth doing for these kids,” said Trey Duke, coordinator of Federal Programs and RTI for Rutherford County Schools, who explained interest in applying for grant money and hosting the camp is generated at the school level. “They do all the work. They apply for the grant and all the logistical stuff.”
The program’s purpose is to target low-income students and to help prevent the summer learning-loss that research has shown some students experience when they do not have on-going systematic interest for the better part of two months.
Read to be Ready cuts the lack of instruction time in half.
Christa Demonbreun, a fourth-grade teacher at Christiana, and Sydni Miller, a first-grade teacher at Rockvale Elementary, are two of the five summer program directors for Rutherford County Schools.
“We’re trying to prevent that from happening with these kiddos,” said Demonbreun, regarding the summer gap, which Duke added, “Is detrimental for all students and can be significant for students who may already be behind or not where they need to be.”
The weekly curriculum at each school is built around a particular theme of their choice.
“When I put together the camp (at Rockvale), I was thinking about what the kids needed,” said Miller, who chose themes — science, gardening, artists and animals — that presented misconceptions students could learn from.
When planning out the four weeks, Miller said she asked herself, “What misconceptions do students have and with those, how can I get students excited for literacy? … I thought about, what can I get the most out of?”
In addition to reading and writing, the Read to be Ready program also features hands-on STEM-related activities associated to that week’s chosen theme.
For instance, on Monday, Miller arranged for a local beekeeper to visit with students. While young students understand the relationship between bees and honey, Miller said, there is also a misconception among elementary-aged children “that bees go to flowers to eat honey.”
The beekeeper dispelled the misconception and proved to be entertaining for the 45 students attending the Rockvale camp.
Miller’s chosen theme for the second week at Rockvale is gardening, and on Tuesday, students went outside to collect cups of dirt and soil so they could examine it more closely.
Read to be Ready is an all-in-one program designed for learning, reading, writing and – because it is a summer camp – having fun.
“That’s what the Read to be Ready camps do,” she added, “they’re trying to engage students, but also motivate them to get excited to read and to write.”
Like Miller, Demonbreun developed a curriculum that would help generate “a passion for reading and writing.” Her chosen themes included gardening, water, inventions and communication.
Two of their STEM activities included making compost during their first week and attempting to make snow the second week after reading a book about water, which made a reference to snow.
“Kids love this camp,” Demondreun continued, “Last summer, some kids didn’t want to come the first week, but by the end of the fourth week they didn’t want to leave. We’ve had parents tell us what a big jump they’ve noticed their kids make during the school year.”
PHOTOS / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT