A Day in the Life of a Read to Achiever

By Jeanna Baxter White
“Some kids are art smart, or music smart, or book smart, and we don’t get to explore enough of that during a traditional school day,” says Kerry Blackwelder, a veteran Read to Achieve third-grade HillRAP instructor. “I get excited for the kids who are coming to camp because this environment helps build their confidence so much and they blossom! They discover how smart they are and what they can accomplish.”

Read to Achieve Camp is designed to help third-graders meet state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade. The intensive four-week camp also includes first and second- graders who demonstrated the potential for reaching grade-level proficiency in reading with extra help in the summer.

Davie County’s camp is based on the A+Schools of North Carolina Program which combines interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts instruction to offer children opportunities to develop creative, innovative ways of thinking, learning and showing what they know.  

This is the fifth year the camp, partially funded by the Mebane Foundation, has employed this holistic approach to reading. The camp’s attendees actively learn through visual arts, drama, music, and creative writing, in addition to tailored instruction through Hill Center reading sessions and small group literacy circles. Each week has a different theme with most activities revolving around that topic reinforcing student understanding.

Eager to personally observe the transformation that I have been hearing and writing about for the past three years, as well as curious about the use of the arts to enhance literacy, I spent a day shadowing students from Lori Culler’s third-grade class and participating in their activities.

What a difference eleven days made! Students who were nervous and reluctant to be there when I spoke to them on the first day of camp were now fully engaged and begged to stay a little longer before going home! After enjoying a day of camp, I understood why.

8 a.m.- 8:20 a.m.– Gym
Third-graders begin in the gym with 20 minutes of stretching and exercise which gets the blood moving and the creative juices flowing, according to Camp Director, Jeremy Brooks. “This morning tradition also helps to create a sense of community as we actually become a little family for the summer.”

After completing several child-oriented exercise and music videos that were enough to get the heart pumping and the stomach growling, students went to the cafeteria to pick up breakfast to carry back to homeroom.

8:25 a.m.- 8:50 a.m. — Homeroom
While students ate, Culler read Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,(link youtube read aloud https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kl_-0nlfNHA) a fun fantasy about the town of Chewandswallow where food falls from the sky three times a day; for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The story tied into the week’s theme of weather as did yesterday’s story, Thunder Cake,(https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=thunder+cake+read+aloud) in which a grandmother helps her granddaughter get over her fear of thunder by making a cake together. Students excitedly informed me that they would be making thunder cake the following day. (Yes, I was invited, and yes, it was delicious. Thanks, Mrs. Culler, Mrs. Alonso, and students!)

The story was followed by the morning meeting in which students greeted each other through a series of rotations that included a “good morning,” along with a handshake, curtsy or bow, high five, or fist bump.

“We have students from all of the elementary schools in our group of 15,” said Culler. “We wanted to build a feeling of community and belonging.  Students who came in on the first day of camp not knowing anyone suddenly have 14 new friends.”

Homeroom ended with videos about hurricanes and a discussion about tropical storm Chris which had just been upgraded to a hurricane.

8:55 a.m. – 9:40 a.m. — Hill
Arnulfo, Joshua, Sophia and I headed to a Hill Center reading session with Suzie Alonso who has been teaching HillRAP in the classroom for three years and at RtA Camp for the past three summers.

Through HillRAP, specially trained teachers guide groups of up to four students through exercises in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each student has an individualized curriculum to provide instruction where it is needed most. Using an iPad, students complete a series of literacy-focused activities. Alonso’s iPad links to each student’s iPad so that she can check their answers as well as go around the table and work with students individually.

“The program helps students understand and practice phonics through learning the syllable types, decoding words, and practicing reading fluency,” Alonso said. “The students then use the words that they have decoded in context by reading passages and answering questions. HillRap is a valuable program in that it meets each child at their level of reading. The program also has the students work towards a goal and work against themselves.”

9:45 a.m – 10:30 a.m. — Art
We headed to Art for more weather-related activities with Amanda Juhasz, Esther LaRoque, and Mindy Ledbetter. Yesterday students drew a picture of a person standing under an umbrella. Today students went outside to splatter paint rain onto their pictures. For the second activity, Juhasz read a weather-related poem entitled Today We Had Some Weather. Students created three-column booklets in which they illustrated three idioms from the poem, “It was raining cats and dogs” was a group favorite.

When viewing artwork, students must learn to look closely in order to comprehend different aspects of the work,” said Juhasz. “In learning to look closely (visual literacy), they also learn how important it is to “look” more closely when reading text. Skills learned when viewing artwork help students with comprehension and support ELA standards.”

“The theme for third grade this particular week was the weather. Students drew rainy-day portraits of people holding umbrellas. Earlier in the week, they watched a video about Jackson Pollock and his interesting splatter painting technique. Students looked closely at some of Pollock’s artwork and then used his technique to splatter paint rain in their pictures.”

“In the art room, the weather poem that was introduced in their homeroom was used to point out idioms,” she added. “Idioms are difficult for some students to understand, but when we illustrate them, the literal meaning becomes clear, and students were encouraged to share with each other the literal meaning in order to decipher the figurative meaning of each.”

When given time to discuss either works of art or their idioms, teachers used guiding questions that led to a deeper understanding of ELA and Art concepts.

10:35 a.m. – 11:20 a.m. — Reading
Culler reviewed the elements of poetry that she had already introduced including rhythm, repetition, alliteration, rhyme, and onomatopoeia. Today she added personification and reinforced the definition of idioms, everyday phrases that don’t make sense, but we know what they mean. Students practiced reading the weather poem from art class using little shakers to help maintain the proper rhythm.

“Reciting poetry with a musical instrument helps to build a reader’s fluency,” said Culler. “Fluent readers are able to focus on the meaning of the text because they are not having to spend time decoding words.”

Students then glued the stanzas of the poem onto the pages of a popsicle book (a small paper booklet with a large popsicle stick as the spine) and illustrated them. According to Culler, this offered students who are art smart a chance to show their understanding of the poem as well as gave students something to take home to show to parents and siblings.

11:25 a.m. – 11:35 — Homeroom
Students are getting tired by this time, so Culler uses short, fun but educational activities to keep them moving. We sang My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean and stood or sat whenever we heard the “b” sound.  We also answered the question, “If you could make one rule that the world has to follow, what would be your rule?”  Then it was time for a bathroom break before recess.

11:35 a.m. – 12:05 — Recess
YMCA counselors Olivia Bowman and Jay Davis took the students to the Rich Park playground to work off some of their abundant energy.

“Our partnership with the YMCA allows teachers to have a planning time each day,” said Brooks. “Our entire third-grade team eats lunch together. This working lunch has sparked many great ideas and has been the origin of many of our camp’s traditions.”

12:10 p.m. – 12:35 p.m — Lunch
After working up a thirst and an appetite, students visited together while eating lunch also supervised by Bowman and Davis.

12:35 p.m. – 1:05 p.m. – Computer Lab
Under the supervision of Rachel Morse, students used i-Ready software to practice for next week’s end-of-camp assessment. Students completed exercises that helped them read to understand, read to analyze, and read to write. The i-Ready software package delivers student instruction, performance diagnostics and progress reports based on K-12 Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Mathematics and Reading. Students took the i-Ready Diagnostic Test and receive differentiated online instruction according to their ability, while camp instructors receive customized reports on student performance and progress throughout camp. The state accepts the i-Ready Assessment as an alternative to the standard end of grade (EOG) test.

“The i-Ready program helps students by giving them a fun way to learn reading skills,” said Morse. “It’s engaging and provides rewards for their hard work. I love that they can have fun and learn at the same time.”

1:10 p.m. – 1:55 p.m. – Music
Rhythm ruled the day in music class. After a discussion of fiction vs. non-fiction, Michael Errickson guided students through reading the words of a song using the proper rhythmic phrasing. Students clapped their hands, tapped their legs, and used musical instruments to reinforce the rhythm. He then divided them into groups with different parts. The lesson culminated with each group doing their part simultaneously.

“The science behind multiple intelligences and their use as teaching tools has grown in acceptance and practice in the classrooms across the globe,” said Errickson. “Music has shown great potential to aid students in the acquisition of skills and concepts in a ‘whole brain’ learning style and has facilitated the expansion of knowledge not only of music’s own content but also that of other academic areas.”

“In this lesson, rhythm was used to reinforce the elements of fiction/non-fiction stories in a fun and engaging way,” he added. “Developing rhythmic accuracy increases the likelihood of success with phonemic awareness and potentially with accuracy and fluency. It also affords students with an opportunity to express themselves and demonstrate their understanding of concepts with or without using language itself.”

2:00 p.m. – 2:40 p.m. – Homeroom
Part of homeroom involved the completion and a review of the day’s events. Culler reviewed the weather poem, and students recited it with shakers again as a whole class.

Students finished the illustrations in their popsicle books while Culler read a Patricia Polacco book entitled Something About Hensley’s.

“I put a lot of focus on Polacco’s books during this week because she was a struggling reader in grade school and had to work hard to overcome that obstacle and now she is a children’s writer!” said Culler. “I want my students to see that being a struggling reader does not prevent you from being successful in life.”

Some students chose to share their drawings with their classmates during the daily “informance,” (impromptu performances that require no rehearsals). At 2:35 it was time to line up to go.

At the end of the day, it was easy to see why the camp is such a success.  Passionate, dedicated teachers + a dynamic multi-faceted curriculum = thriving, confident students ready to take on the challenges that a new school year will bring.

Davie County Schools Read to Achieve Camp – Literacy Training that is Changing Lives

By Jeanna B White
How much can 16 days change a child’s life? One hundred twenty-one Davie County students are finding out as they attend this summer’s Read to Achieve Camp at Mocksville Elementary School.

Read to Achieve Camp is designed to help third-graders meet state requirements in reading to advance to the fourth grade. The intensive four-week camp also includes first and second graders who demonstrated the potential of reaching grade-level proficiency in reading with extra help in the summer. This year’s camp will serve 76 third-graders, 25 second graders, and 20 first graders.

With $99,000 provided by the Mebane Foundation combined with state funds, students attending the 2018 Read to Achieve Camp will actively learn through visual arts, drama, music, and creative writing, in addition to tailored instruction through Hill Center Reading sessions and small group literacy circles. Campers develop self-confidence and learn techniques to reduce test anxiety. This is the fifth year Davie’s highly successful RtA will use this holistic approach to reading.

Christy Cornatzer, the camp’s curriculum coordinator, loves the camp’s multi-faceted approach. “Students who have had difficulty learning through traditional methods, will be given opportunities to learn in nontraditional ways. We address all of the different intelligences through time outside, time moving their bodies, and time working with visual arts. Whatever their dominant learning style, we will touch on it during some part of the day.”

“We hope to build confidence in the students who are here, and we hope that they will return to their schools as stronger readers that can excel and have a successful year.”

Past results have been inspiring. During last summer’s camp, 24% of the county’s non-proficient third- graders reached the required reading achievement score to move on to fourth grade, and an additional 11% of those students passed the Read to Achieve test in the months following the camp. A remarkable 81% showed positive growth on one or more reading assessments. Furthermore, 74% of the younger campers demonstrated significant growth over their initial scores on formative evaluations. All of the students achieved a substantial increase in confidence, engagement, and stamina in approaching new learning experiences.

Parents are excited about the positive impact the camp can have on their child’s learning and future academic success.

“My daughter has been looking forward to the camp, and I think it will be a good opportunity for her,” said the mother of a second-grader.

One father said his son was nervous because he didn’t know anyone, but added,”This is going to be good for him. I think he will learn a lot and have a great time.”

“Word is starting to spread through the community about what we do,” said Jeremy Brooks, camp director. “We have parents who ask if their child can come back to camp for another summer even though they came the year before. We continue to add the finest teachers in Davie County, and our staff gets better and better each and every year. This is a “who’s who” of Davie County educators.”

121 Davie County Students “Read to Achieve”
“Many of these students have a low perception of themselves as learners, so we take them through a variety of reading activities in a fun environment,” said Brooks. “We want them to have a good experience and to feel better about themselves as learners and to have a positive experience with reading so that they no longer see it as negative or a disappointment.”

The structure of the camp creates a lot of excitement. Students aren’t used to singing, dancing, and rapping during a regular school day.

The camp day begins at 8:00 a.m. with a short combined session focused on goal setting for the day. Students are divided into small groups with an average ratio of fourteen students per teacher except when students are in Hill RAP sessions at the four to one ratio. The student’s day is divided between Hill Rap sessions, writing to learn sessions, art and reading sessions, testing stamina sessions, music/theatre, and verbal expression sessions, and diagnostic reading clinic sessions. Each session lasts approximately forty-five minutes. Each day ends at 2:45 p.m

Each grade level’s lessons have a theme, and those themes are carried over to all aspects of camp. The first graders are learning about families while the second graders are studying communities. The third graders are racing across North Carolina with units about the mountains, piedmont, and coast which will give them advanced preparation for studying these topics in fourth-grade science and social studies.

This year, ‘informances” (impromptu performances that require no rehearsals) will allow students to further build confidence as they show their best work and share with each other what they’ve learned.

“Informances will be held a the end of each day to give students the opportunity to showcase something they are proud of,” said Cornatzer. “Although students aren’t required to participate, we will be encouraging everyone to do so. We hope it will help them build pride and confidence in what they are doing while also helping them connect literature and art.”

At the end of the fourth week, third-grade students will be allowed to retake the RtA Reading test, which is a form of the EOG.

Hill RAP Plus A+ Schools Plus Passionate Teachers = 16 Days of Success!
Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum & instruction for Davie County Schools, attributes the continuing success of Davie County’s Read to Achieve summer camp to quality instruction by highly accomplished teachers, small student-teacher ratios, and the integration of the arts with literacy instruction to provide engaging, hands-on lessons.  “Implementation of both the Hill Center Reading Achievement Program (Hill RAP) and A+ Schools during camp are extremely beneficial in enhancing reading skills and building confidence in emerging readers.“

Through Hill RAP, eight specially trained teachers guide groups of four students through exercises in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each student has an individualized curriculum to provide instruction where it is needed most.

A+ Schools combine interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts instruction, offering children opportunities to develop creative, innovative ways of thinking, learning and showing what they know. In A+ Schools, teaching the state’s mandated curriculum involves a collaborative, many-disciplined approach, with the arts continuously woven into every aspect of a child’s learning.

Developing highly effective students requires innovative, highly effective teachers. The heart of Davie’s RtA camp is its staff of passionate, dedicated educators. Each has been trained in the A+ Schools Arts Integrated Instruction program and has personally completed each and every assignment the students complete. In addition, those conducting Hill RAP sessions have previous  experience teaching Hill reading methodologies.Most are RtA camp veterans who return each year because they are excited about the growth and success these students are experiencing, often for the first time.

“Read to Achieve Camp renews my love for teaching,” said Kerry Blackwelder, a reading specialist at Cooleemee Elementary who is teaching Hill Center groups for the fifth year. “We can look at each student, see how they learn and teach them in a style that best meets their needs.”

“The students usually start out shy. They know the answers, but they are afraid to speak up,” Blackwelder said. “By the end of camp, they have gained confidence and become risk takers. When they come together here, they are one big melting pot. They discover that other students share their struggles, and they learn to love themselves for who they are. A lot of them cry on the last day.”

Many of the methods used in the Read to Achieve Camp are designed to be shared throughout the school system by these trained teachers. Schools and students county-wide benefit because these teachers can take the new training they receive each summer and their collective ideas and experiences back to their classrooms to share with their students and colleagues.

The camp builds so much more than academic success. After 16 days, students leave camp believing in themselves and their abilities.

“We provide 16 days of success so that the test is no longer such a big deal and the students have the resilience and confidence to make it through, said Brooks.”