A summer reading program in Richmond, Indiana, says it was able to reach nearly 80 children this summer despite limitations created by the coronavirus pandemic. Every Child Can Read's Third Grade Academy helps rising fourth graders improve their reading skills.
Teachers in the Richmond school district recommend students who are at-risk or need additional help with reading for the community-based non-profit's program. Normally it would reach around 100 students, so organizers were pleased 78 students signed on for this summer's modified virtual program.
Ashley Garard, director of the Third Grade Academy, was adamant the program not be canceled this summer. She says she felt someone had to check in with local students.
"I know they're at-risk and one of the huge factors in having a successful society is getting students to read," she says. "If we just forget about these kids for a summer then we basically have an entire group of kids that just kind of are forgotten, and I just wasn't OK with that. Our community needs these kids to be well-educated and be a part of our community in a few years."
Along with virtual lessons, children were given 20 books over four weeks and instructors visited each student at their home once a week. Garard says books were selected with a goal of giving each student a love of reading. The "Third Grade Academy To Go" program also aimed to help with some of the social/emotional skills kids have been missing out on with the school year cut short and summer programs canceled or limited.
The response from families was fantastic, Garard says. Some families bought extra outdoor furniture so the visits could be conducted safely, and oftentimes other children in a family would be just as excited as the student to see the reading counselors.
Typically, Indiana students take the IREAD-3 exam - a standardized reading exam - in March to assess reading competency. The test was canceled this year because of the pandemic. Garard says that makes it a little harder to judge a student's improvement before and after the summer program. However, anecdotally, she says parents say they've seen a difference.
"Reading just seemed like a chore for him," says parent Lori Shelley of her son, Logan, who participated in the Third Grade Academy. "It was just something that he just was not interested in at all."
She describes the change she saw in her son this summer as "amazing."
"There was a point where he came to me and said, 'Mom, I really like this book. No, I love this book,' and that is not something that my son would ever say and it made me cry a little bit because it was such a relief to me that he actually enjoyed it."
Shelley says Logan does well at school but when it comes to homework after school, he wouldn't really absorb anything he read. She says he now understands how to take in the words and understand what the material is really saying. She thinks that will make homework, tests and more easier moving forward.
She thinks part of the success was about simply finding the right book to interest her son.
"Now that he has found something that he likes, any kind of reading doesn't seem like such a chore anymore because he knows now that he can get through it."
When asked if he was excited about the program before it started, Logan answers "not really," but now "I like it." He's partial to The Bad Guys and Flat Stanley, he says.