FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — While most children are looking forward to pool parties and popsicles, Shymeek Verdell is looking forward to just one thing this summer: getting promoted to fourth grade, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
“I’m working my hardest to get to fourth grade,” said Shymeek, a third-grader attending reading camp at North Hills Elementary School.
Shymeek is one of 1,200 students enrolled in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools summer reading camp, an initiative created by the state’s new Read to Achieve law.
The law requires third-graders to prove they can read on grade level before they can pass to the fourth grade.
The camp, which started this week, will run Monday through Thursday for six weeks at 10 elementary schools. The camps will allow student who struggle with reading to receive intensive instruction aimed at getting them to read on grade level. The students spend the mornings working on reading skills in small groups and the afternoons in enrichment classes like art, dance and science.
The camp is about more than just improving reading skills, said Shayne Willis, instructional coach and program manager at Petree Elementary. It’s about getting the students excited about reading.
That’s a taller task than just teaching vocabulary and phonics.
So, to encourage students, Willis said organizers made sure classes were stocked with books that will interest third- and fourth-grade students.
For third-graders, it’s often books about animals. For fourth-graders, sports are a popular topic, Willis said.
On Tuesday, Deanna Gupton, worked with two students at Petree’s camp using a book about cheetahs.
“Let’s slow down,” Gupton said, coaching third-grader Jaleel Robinson. “What does ‘litter’ mean?”
When Jaleel wasn’t sure, Gupton had Jaleel use context clues in the story to figure it out.
“Her kids?” Jaleel said, offering the correct answer.
Small group work like that is the key to success for the summer program, said Tiffany Krafft, program manager at North Hills, and what sets it apart from classroom instruction during the school year. With classes of just 10 or 12, teachers can break students into small groups to work closely on certain skills. Most classrooms have three groups working at once. The teacher works with one group, the teacher assistant with another while another group works independently.
At the end of the camp students will have another chance to pass the assessment and move on to fourth grade. Those who fail will be placed in a transitional fourth-grade class with extra emphasis on reading. After the first semester, they will get yet another chance to pass the test.
After initial predictions from the school system that as many as half of the district’s 4,000 third-graders could need the summer reading camps, about 800 failed to earn fourth-grade promotion. The program was first opened to those students and another 800 or so who didn’t pass the end-of-grade test but qualified for promotion because good cause exemption, said Cheryl Wright, the district’s lead teacher of summer programs. Nearly 1,200 of those students actually enrolled in the program, though attendance numbers were not available yet.
Anecdotally, schools reported between 40 and 60 percent attendance in the first two days with significant attendance improvements from day one to day two.
Additionally, a small group of fourth-graders who didn’t pass their end-of-grade reading test was invited. Fewer than 100 of those students enrolled, Wright said.
When the legislature changed the Read to Achieve law last month, it removed the attendance requirement in favor of strong encouragement for parents to send their children. Because the schools can’t require attendance, it’s even more important to make the program something parents want to send their children to and something students want to attend, Willis said. At her school, Petree, they are offering everything from drama to cooking.
“The important part is that they come every day,” Willis said, “and learn every day.”