Mrs. Karen Browne-Francis couldn’t stand what she was witnessing any longer.
The National Focal Point for Early Learners Support in Antigua, Mrs. Browne-Francis saw precious students in danger of falling behind in literacy skills because of the pandemic. With their schools closed at times, with sickness falling upon their teachers, more and more children were at risk of academic challenges in the future.
Mrs. Browne-Francis was especially concerned about the youngest learners in Antigua and Barbuda, children with special needs, and the ones with the fewest resources at home. Every missed class, every missed day, could compound, making it harder for these students to catch up. She felt a greater urgency when she learned that children in the Caribbean and Latin America missed more classroom days during the pandemic than any other children in the world.
It didn’t take long for her to know what to do: she would establish a summer reading program called Camp Read-a-Lot that would provide a way for children in Antigua and Barbuda to stay on track with their reading skills. But she knew she would need help to make the program as successful as possible.
That’s when Mrs. Browne-Francis reached out to Hands Across the Sea. She knew our organization would be the perfect partner to see her dream of a summer reading program become a reality. Together, we created a 3-week intensive reading program designed for children from Kindergarten through Grade 3. The program would give children content-rich lessons in reading and writing, vocabulary, comprehension, writing, phonics, fluency, and experiential reading.
Mrs. Vernest Mack and Mrs. Hyacinth Gonsalves-Barriero, Hands’ on-island Antigua Literacy Link team, supported Mrs. Browne-Francis’ work as they put the program together. The Literacy Link team created classroom action and implementation plans, which they led during the 3-week program.
A Unique Literacy Opportunity
Working in collaboration, we identified 9 schools that would serve as hosts for the program to provide easy access for community children. Fifty students from each of these schools would be invited to participate in the camp held from June 27 to July 15th, 2022. Children were invited to enroll based on their level of need for intervention, whether they needed help with phonological skills, phonemes, syllables, or stronger English fluency. School principals and teachers recommended students for the program, taking into account observations from ELS Coordinators and Education Officers working in Infant Pedagogy and School Libraries and data from school records and formal literacy assessments.
Each program day, the students rotated among various literacy stations at their site to keep them engaged. The stations were:
- Sound and Word Works
- Sight Words
- Media (using Lexia, a literacy software licensed to schools in Antigua with support from the Mill Reef Fund)
- Reading Nook (for unstructured reading time)
The program was a success! 433 students attended Camp Read-a-Lot, with 78 Ministry educators serving as program facilitators across the 9 centers. Mrs. Mack and Mrs. Golsalves-Barriero visited each location during the first week, then tag-teamed to visit each center to provide one-on-one support for teachers throughout the program and to fill in when a site needed an extra staff member.
The enthusiastic students at the camp showed improved confidence and intrinsic motivation to participate in the activities of each literacy station. One highlight of the program was Parents Day held on the third Wednesday of the camp. “Parents got firsthand knowledge of their children’s learning styles, motivations, and habits,” Hyacinth said. “Students were also encouraged and happy with their parents’ support.”
Involving parents has been key in Hands Across the Sea’s programming in recent years, and is a central tenet of the OECS regional Education Strategy.
A Worthwhile Initiative
Mrs. Golsalves-Barriero was pleased with the outcome of this summer reading program. “Camp Read-A-Lot was a worthwhile initiative for all stakeholders, especially for our young struggling readers,” she said. “I recognized that parents are still interested in helping their children to learn to read. Their support especially on ‘Parent Day’ was commendable.”
Feedback from Principals and Educators
We had great feedback about Camp Read-a-Lot from principals and teachers who participated in the initiative. Here’s what some of them said:
“I saw some students blossom in the print-rich environment and in small groupings.”
– Potters Primary
“Confidence levels of students improved greatly, and this was evident in their eagerness to respond to questions versus the reservation of some prior to.”
– Nelvie N. Gore
“Facilitators brought the stations to life with props surrounding each theme.”
– Pigotts Primary
“A high level of interest was maintained as the students were always excited to know what they were going to do next.” – Mary E. Piggott School
“We look forward to the Second Chapter of ‘Summer Reading Camp’. Our students were highly impacted.” – Holy Trinity, Barbuda
Thanks to the Mill Reef Fund
Hands Across the Sea’s participation and leadership during Camp Read-a-Lot was made possible through the generosity of The Mill Reef Fund. For 10 years, the Mill Reef Fund has been an essential partner to Hands Across the Sea’s mission and service and has helped the organization to reach more than 20,000 school-aged children in Antigua. The Mill Reef Fund is a charitable trust founded in 1948 by members of the Mill Reef Club and is designed “to improve the lives of the people of Antigua and Barbuda through donations to medical, educational, general welfare, and religious institutions.” To learn more, visit: www.millreeffund.org