National statistics show that 83% of low-income students are below proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test, and 49% are below basic level. These 6.6 million children are at risk of failing to graduate from high school on time because they will not be proficient readers. Illiteracy leads to joblessness and a greater chance of incarceration. Not all bullying is done by individuals. “The way things are” can tyrannize children and leave damaging effects.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them (Mt. 19:14). In light of the contemporary crisis of poverty and violence, perhaps a more modern translation would read, “Jesus is shouting for followers to love children larger than Sunday School.”
The Diocese of Southern Ohio has begun throwing lifelines to at-risk kids. Since 2010 Summer Camp Reading (SCR) combats summer learning loss and lack of tutoring assistance in Cincinnati by serving struggling readers going into 3rd and 4th grade. Five days a week for six weeks campers receive daily one-on-one tutoring, read books, make crafts associated with the books, play literacy games, write in journals and work on the problem of the day with expert, caring staff. Breakfast and lunch are free.
Camp results are dramatic. At the beginning and end of camp each child takes the DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) test that measures oral reading fluency. Grade level vocabulary lists are part of the curriculum, as are values. Each site designs its own service project to give back to the community. Every child improves in confidence and reading skills as well as in demeanor and positive thinking.
“We see miracles, large and small,” Dianne Ebbs, SCR executive director and a member of the cathedral, reports. “Franciso was beaten down by his inability to read and simply refused to try. After working with his tutor, he was a changed boy and even won the camp spelling bee.”
At St. Andrew’s, Evanston, the campers are surrounded by love. Whole Again supplies the free meals, while parishioners cook special meals, interact with the children and host a pizza party at graduation.
Parishioners and campers are proud of their work. Damon is one of many success stories. He was going into third grade but reading at the first grade level. After coming to camp every day he understood and read the entire second grade vocabulary list.
President Obama wrote a letter to the campers, praising them for working hard and focusing on their education. (See story)
SCR augments St. Andrew’s connection to neighboring Xavier University. Students in the Education department observe and volunteer at the camp, and a professor is a member of SCR’s Advisory Group.
St. Monica’s Center in Lincoln Heights offers children a safe place to learn and play in a beautiful setting. After a summer at SCR, campers passed the Ohio Third Grade Reading Guarantee test. Their school congratulated SCR, adding that the campers’ improvement boosted the school up one level in state ratings.
SCR partners with Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church at a site in Over-the-Rhine, and is consulting with another denomination about adding a site. The program is entrepreneurial. Every year SCR raises money, and each site pays around one-half of the cost or more. The Diocese of Southern Ohio is the fiscal agent, and Episcopal Community Services Foundation has awarded funds for one program. Sites are encouraged to take on leadership, and the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County now runs its seven sites.
Free to any organization that would like to start its own reading camp, the SCR website offers a handbook, including list of books, activities and contact information.
But SCR is not enough. Throughout Southern Ohio there are so many children struggling, summer and winter, if not today then tomorrow. A camper catches up in reading, and then a gunfight erupts or an eviction notice is posted, and stress drags everyone down. Often there is no one in the home available to help with homework.
As a diocese we need to open our arms wider to children, to the breadth of Jesus. Where are our effective literacy programs? Who hears the children calling out for help? Illiteracy doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Let’s organize.
For more information about SCR or to donate, visit www.summercampreading.org. SCR is a finalist in the Difference Maker Awards by the Museum Center and Duke Energy Children’s Museum, February 11, 2017.The Rev. Noel Julnes-Dehner, co-founder of Summer Camp Reading, is associated with Christ Church Cathedral and St. Thomas, Terrace Park. She is a documentary filmmaker. Co-founder Joe Dehner, an attorney with Frost Brown Todd, is Chancellor of the Diocese of Southern Ohio.