The second annual Camp Read-a-Lot just concluded and–pun intended–it was one for the books!
Like last year, Hands Across the Sea provided on-site support for the camp through a grant we received from the Mill Reef Fund
With the theme “Read your way to the future,” the camp focused on careers that children can aspire to in the future. An amazing 456 students in K-2 requiring literacy intervention and support attended the camp, which took place at 8 centers across Antigua and Barbuda. A team of 70 teachers and helpers, along with the Hands Across the Sea Antigua Literacy Links, supported the students in their reading enhancement. The camp met for 3 weeks, from June 20 to July 14 for 4-½ hours each day.
The teachers and Literacy Links made the program FUN!! The interactive sessions in each of the 6 stations included exciting games, visits from resource personnel, engaging props, creative opportunities, and reading for fun. One of the highlights for the children was field trips to area businesses and visits from industry professionals. These experiences exposed students to possible future careers, along with reading.
Literacy Links Vernest Mack and Hyacinth Gonsalves Barriero represented Hands Across the Sea onsite during the 3-week Summer Camp, and during the week-long planning session that preceded it. After the theme and plan had been set for camp, the Links team culled all the participating Hands school libraries and curated book selections based on the camp’s theme. Next, they visited all 8 centers and prepared each library or general classroom space as a “Library Nook”, which was inviting, stimulating, and student-friendly. These special spaces encouraged students to interact and read.
The Links participated in Read Alouds and daily activities, which were held in the Nooks to help the camp succeed. Known and respected by students, family, and educators alike, the Links added their personal touch, focused attention, and expertise as they visited each center at least 6 times, or to meet immediate needs. The Links also helped write summary reports, which included their personal experiences, professional observations, and information gathered through one-on-one interviews and briefs with teachers, facilitators, students, and parents of participating students. The talented Links visited or participated in the Camp to offer mentorship, provide and receive feedback, and help bridge the program with continuing literacy learning at home.
Parents were invited to visit on the final Wednesday of camp, where they stepped into their children’s learning journey while discovering ways to continue in their involvement. ABS Television also made a meaningful appearance on this day, shining a light on special needs and literacy with a visit to All Saints Secondary School.
Overall, the Literacy Links, teachers, students and parents were pleased with the outcomes from camp this year. Hyacinth Barriero, Hands Across the Sea Literacy Link, had this to say about the experience:
The children are having so much fun and are really showing great improvement. We are observing their ability to call out sight words, use phonics, put together words and sound out letters, and we are seeing improvements in their writing. The children have elevated enough that they are now reading sentences to us during scavenger hunts and games. When we question the students, we are getting accurate responses. The children are interacting with a higher and richer understanding of what they are hearing and communicating.
The teachers also indicated that they had a great experience. They shared about the strong camaraderie among leadership and that every member of the teams actively shouldered their responsibilities and ensured activities flowed smoothly. Some of the comments they made include:
“The students love to read, and they get an opportunity to role play the stories they read.”
“They got different books to read, and their reading ability has improved.”
“Reading helps them a lot with their other subject areas.”
It is evident that the students grew a lot in their literacy skills from the camp. They were very responsive, and the small groups were conducive to more activities and participation.
The students also indicated how much they enjoyed camp this year. In fact, they said they wished the reading camp lasted for the whole vacation! They were enjoying themselves and at the same time learning a lot through interactive teaching and learning. When asked which station they preferred, most of the students indicated they preferred the library Nook.
The students also enjoyed the Media station, which included the use of Mill Reef Fund-sponsored Lexia literacy software. One of the students remarked, “We learned how to use the computer to find and spell words.” Another one said, “It helps us to read.”
Students want the programme to continue every year! They stated they learn a lot and hope it continues.
During one of the visits at the Mary E. Pigott Primary School, we met a student from Victory Centre, one of Antigua’s 2 special needs schools. The boy, who has developed a warm relationship with Literacy Link Vernet Mack, rushed over when he saw her come onsite to literacy camp. “Mrs. Mack!! I can start to read! I am reading a little better!! I am moving to the general school in September in grade 4! “I love you. I am learning to read!”
Parental engagement and responses were strong. At the parent visit the final week, the parents expressed their satisfaction with the programme. They watched their children improve and thought the field trips and interactive sessions helped them learn more. Many wished the camp could be extended and said they wanted to see their children streamlined with other students during the regular school year.
All outcomes show that this year’s program was the most effective so far. These outcomes indicate that the secret sauce of Camp Read-a-Lot works. The staff creates an environment where learning is fun and playtime is designed for learning. When the children are learning through their play, and when they are offered small group instruction, even students who have been previously tagged “struggling” or “vulnerable” begin to flourish.
The outcomes of Camp Read-a-Lot provided some insights into improving literacy in schools during the regular school year. Ms. Karen Brown-Francis, Director of Library Services and National Focal Point for the Ministry of Education in Antigua, believes a key takeaway from the camp is to carry over the small groups initiative into the regular school year; this includes the establishment of designated spaces for more interactive teaching, which would create a clear pathway to ensuring students are having a richer and more impactful learning experience.