St. Paul's Reading Camps are making a difference
An article in the Plain Dealer on March 11 reported that Cleveland public schools are preparing for 1,000 third graders to attend summer school. These children are at risk for not advancing to fourth grade due to lack of progress in reading. One local congregation is working to boost reading skills through a unique summer camp for children in Cleveland, Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights who are at risk for falling behind.
In June, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church begins its fifth summer of an overnight camp program, and is adding a day camp this year. Based on a model established in the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington, Reading Camp Cleveland offers a week-long camp free of charge to children identified by their teachers as needing a reading boost.
During the morning session, certified teachers work on key reading skills with small groups of students. One group may listen to a mystery story up to, but not including, the ending. Students then work in pairs to write and act out a conclusion for the rest of the group.
Another session may involve campers writing letters to their counselors describing their camp adventures. Each child receives one-on-one reading time with a volunteer every day with a book of their own choosing, a bit of quiet time during a busy week.
Afternoons are dedicated to traditional camp activities: swimming, hiking, crafts or field trips. In past years, local children’s book authors have come to talk about how they started writing and what it takes to become a writer. Bob Kloos of Beacon Street Ministries presented a program to discourage bullying. Jungle Terry, a local favorite, brought his animals to entertain the campers. These special activities are directed toward boosting the campers’ confidence.
For many children, this camp is the first time they are away from home, and trained counselors are available for late-night talks with a homesick camper. They are also tireless leaders of camp songs, hikes through the woods and pick-up soccer games. Other adults serve as support staff: aiding teachers, reading bedtime stories or helping anxious kids feel comfortable in the swimming pool.
Operating costs for a week of overnight camp is approximately $17,000, which covers housing, meals and supplies at Cedar Hills, a conference center of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio in Painesville. Staff members volunteer their time, many taking time off from their regular jobs to work at the camp.
Fundraising events are held throughout the year to support the summer reading camp and keep it free for campers. Volunteers are asked to contribute to the cost of their meals, but the goal is to raise enough money so that staff will not have to pay.
The new day camp program will take place at St. Paul’s in Cleveland Heights, where groups within the church will provide lunches and snacks, and costs are expected to be much lower. The day camp will also provide volunteer opportunities for more people—those who cannot commit to a full week can lead a craft activity or drive children to the pool in the afternoon. Reading Camp provides the opportunity for parents and teenagers to volunteer together, for a few hours or for a full week.
The needs are great, and St. Paul’s is working to make a big difference in the lives of a small group of children. For more information or to make a contribution, contact Reading Camp Cleveland at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Betsy Hockey is a physical therapist at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, the parent of three children in CH-UH schools, and co-director of Reading Camp Cleveland.