Summer camp teaches kids how to have fun reading
Twenty children who will enter the fourth- and fifth-grades in August spent last week developing their reading skills while also having a lot of fun. Reading camp kids sat on the floor while playing games and learning to use phonics so they can sound out words. They also learned how to take words apart for understanding and how to figure out what word makes sense in a sentence. "We make it as much unlike school as we possibly can - and still get some (reading) skills taught," explained Sara Meekins, director of the reading camp held at St. John's Episcopal Church every summer since 2007. Teachers from all four elementary schools in Woodford County Public Schools recommended students for the weeklong summer camp, known as the Woodford County Reading Club. Camp began at 8:30 each morning with breakfast. During breaks in learning, children ate a morning snack, lunch and an afternoon snack before going home at 5 p.m. "You can't learn if you're hungry," said Meekins. She said afternoons were filled with "camp fun" activities. A fieldtrip to the Woodford Theatre included a backstage tour and an acting lesson. "They played wild games on the stage is what they did," said Meekins, who like her campers had never visited the Woodford Theatre's backstage spaces. A visit from the Lexington Philharmonic and its "petting zoo" was an opportunity to touch musical instruments played in an orchestra. Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon also visited with campers to share her passion for the written word. Such experiences can build up a young person's confidence in other areas, which Woodford County Board of Education member and camp volunteer Debby Edelen said, "translates over to their confidence in their reading and academics. "And it also exposes them to some things that they might not have an opportunity to do otherwise." Camp counselors - teenage volunteers including two candidates in the Distinguished Young Women of Woodford County program - worked with campers on fun projects each afternoon. In small groups, camp kids wrote a story and used puppets - made by them - to entertain an audience. They also made frames for pictures they created, made their own tie-dye shirts and did several other crafts, while writing about their camp experiences in journals. "We try to tie this learning that we're doing to having fun," said Meekins. "Reading should be fun." So children are invited to listen as camp volunteers read a fun story after lunch. Campers are also encouraged to read for pleasure - receiving books to read at home during the remaining weeks of summer. "There are lots of (reading) programs like this going on around the community," said Edelen. "It's so important in the summer to not let (academics) drop off." The reading skills learned this summer will be reinforced when the school year begins for many of the children who participated in this summer's Woodford County Reading Club. Every other Wednesday, after-school sessions allow these kids to gain a deeper understanding of how they can use reading for learning, Meekins said. Children who participate in the year-round program and complete two years of summer camp are recognized for those achievements and can apply to receive a $1,000 college scholarship when they graduate from Woodford County High School, according to Meekins. She said four graduates were awarded college scholarships this year. In order to continue offering the scholarships and to help ensure a summer camp continues beyond the next couple of years, Meekins and other volunteers with the program are asking for fundraising ideas. An annual golf scramble honoring the memory of Roger Reeves had been a successful fundraising event for several years, but was not held this summer "so we're talking about a new fundraiser," said Meekins. Anyone with an idea for a fundraising event or those wishing to donate to the summer reading camp may leave a message for Meekins at St. John Episcopal Church, 873-3481. Meekins and Linda Reeves, Roger's wife, started the summer reading camp at St. John's and another at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Harlan County. Several other Episcopal churches in Kentucky also provide space for these summer reading camps, which are volunteer-run. "I just like seeing how much the kids grow from Monday to Friday," said volunteer Sophie Edelen, who will begin her senior year at WCHS in August. "...It's just amazing how much they've picked up in the week that we've been here." Certified teachers - also volunteers - taught sessions on phonics, reading strategies and comprehension and writing at this year's summer reading camp at St. John's Episcopal Church in Versailles. "A lot of the volunteers come from this church, but not all of them," said Meekins.