The cries of “No more teachers, no more books!” were still ringing in my kids’ ears last year when my family took off for a trip to Chicago. We saw Monet’s Haystacks at the Art Institute and ogled Sue the T. Rex at the Field Museum. While I was back at work the next week, my boys spent the rest of the summer in camps exploring everything from cowboys to coding. In between, we made quick trips to museums in Little Rock, Nashville, and here in Memphis. Sure, my kids did their share of video game playing but their brains definitely did not idle much during summer break.
Candace Obadina, summer camp director for Memphis Teacher Residency (MTR), says this kind of summer enrichment actually accounts for more than half of the achievement gap between middle-class kids and children from lower-income households, whose family resources don’t always allow for engaging camps and travel.
Research from the National Summer Learning Association backs her up: Low-income kids lose more than two months in reading and math skills over the summer. Compare that to middle-income kids who actually see slight gains.
“Low-income kids don’t have time to lose anything,” Obadina says.
Enter the MTR Camp
Now beginning its fourth year, the MTR camps will give more than 150 rising first- to third-graders at Cornerstone Prep-Lester Campus and Kingsbury Elementary School the chance to stop summer learning loss in its tracks. Students spend mornings in small reading and math groups, led by both certified teachers and college interns, many of who aspire to become urban educators.
But MTR Camp goes beyond the three R’s. Obadina says the camp experience is about teaching children to love learning. Campers open and close the day with large group sessions where they explore character qualities that promote learning and celebrate students’ successes. Breakfast and lunch are provided each day and group leaders use this time to engage children personally, while hip-hop music plays in the background.
In the afternoons, there are opportunities for art and music enrichment, and each camp session closes with an end-of-summer showcase for parents to see the music, dance, and theater skills kids have learned.
The cost to parents is just $20 for the four-week experience, even more of a bargain when you consider that the average MTR camper grows a month and a half in reading skills during camp. With curriculum demands increasing annually, there is little time for teachers to review. So ensuring that students start school ready to pick up where they left off is essential. “The schools always want us back,” says Obadina.
Other literacy-focused programs
MTR Camp isn’t the only summer program trying to help some of Memphis’ most vulnerable students. Sam Mattson of Literacy Mid-South (LMS) manages the third-grade literacy Collaborative Action Network (CAN), which is focused on ensuring all local children read proficiently by third grade. Last summer, CAN members Memphis Athletic Ministries, Knowledge Quest, the YMCA, MTR, and others received training to serve more than 1,000 children in literacy-focused camps citywide. This summer, LMS hopes to double that number and is actively recruiting more organizations.
“We know students who hit about 1,400 minutes of learning over 20 days in the summer show no learning loss and some actually make gains,” says Mattson.
Dates and applications will be posted on a “Summer Learning” page at MemphisSchoolGuide.org as they become available. Programs fill up by mid-May, so act now.
Four Ways To Keep Kids Reading
Reading 30 minutes a day with your child can prevent summer learning loss.
Keep it light — Let kids pick out their books. Funny stories, graphic novels, sports, or fiction, kids are more apt to read if books cover topics they enjoy.
Sprinkle reading throughout the day — Keep a book bag in the car for restaurant or appointment times. Read at bedtime.
Tap in — Interactive apps sneak in learning. Try Studio Pango (game), Learn with Homer (language development), and LightSail (comprehension). For more ideas, go to readingrockets.org
Explore Memphis — Get a library card and join Explore Memphis, Memphis Public Library’s summer reading program. • Memphislibrary.org
Academic Summer Camp Programs
Shelby County Schools offer an array of summer academic and enrichment programs, from ESL and STEM courses to Shelby Summer Scholars.
Go to Scsk12.org for details.