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YMCA program focuses on reading

Aided by Marybeth Avery, Sean Jackson works on a writing exercise.

Schools, Y team up to improve skills

AMANDA SEBASTIANO
Staff Writer

Twenty-four students from Iron Station and Catawba Springs elementary schools, ranging from (rising) Kindergartners to second-graders, are working on their reading skills during a free, five-week camp this summer.
For the first time, Lincoln County is welcoming the YMCA’s Y-Reader program to Iron Station Elementary, as local children work on improving their literacy.
A program led by certified teachers and designed to help those reading below their grade level, the Y hasn’t hosted the event in this area in all of its 13 years.
Participating students start their days with independent and group reading, and work on science, art and music projects that correspond with the day’s curriculum on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Iron Station Principal Audrey Benton said.
The group sat on a multi-colored, puzzle-shaped mat Tuesday morning as they listened to peers read sentences from the day’s journal entry – their thoughts about the most recent book they read, “Spring is Here.”
Following their presentations, they were assigned a task that surprised them – everyone was to make their own list of 10 words, with a title up top. They practiced their pronunciations of a few words before getting started, some not quite sure how they felt about their homework, while others were excited about the challenge.
Seven-year-old Seth Tallmadge, though he was already an avid reader, has enjoyed Dr. Seuss and other books he has read over the summer so far and has noticed his reading pace to be getting faster since he started.
“I really like to read anyway,” Tallmadge said. “And what we do is pick out our favorite scene from the book we’re reading, and draw pictures of it, too.”
Each day is focused around the Four-Block Model idea, created by Patricia Cunningham in 1990. It was designed to improve reading skills and retention by using a variety of methods in the classroom, including writing.
“Everything we do here is built around literacy, using the Four-Block Model,” Site Coordinator and instructor Mary Beth Avery told the Times-News Tuesday. “We focus on guided and independent reading, writing and working with words.”
Instructors hired by the YMCA, who are either employees of the county school system, Iron Station or Catawba Springs elementaries, divvy up the classroom and make their rounds to each table of children. They inquire about their drawings, and answer questions from those needing extra help.
Across the hall in the library, children are taken one at a time for one-on-one reading practice with volunteers, to discover which children are struggling and where.
Participating youth can be spotted a variety of places Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The elementary students could be swimming in the local Y’s pool, exploring Discovery Place Kids in Charlotte or reading at their desks; some activities they may not have otherwise been able to do, Avery said.
The activities done outside of the classroom are part of the “general enrichment” aspect of the program – correlating what was learned in class to the outside world. Avery was amazed at the number of children who had never seen a swimming pool, and was glad to share that first experience with them this summer.
At the beginning of the camp, the children were assessed after just one week to measure where their skills were initially. Later this month, they will be re-evaluated to see if there was an improvement in their literacy skills, of which county school employee Melanie Thrift is confident.
During the school year, Thrift works with exceptional children in county schools, and decided to try something new with her summer this year. Working with the Y’s literacy program is not only helping children understand what they’re reading, but will also help increase test scores later, she believes.
“Test anxiety is a big factor in poor test scores,” Thrift said. “This program will help them build confidence in their reading, which should help get rid of the stress.”
The first week was spent getting the children acquainted with each other and comfortable with what they would be doing over the next few weeks. Now, instructors believe the children really want to be there and love being a part of the program; they are even happy when they go in on Monday mornings, the teachers said.
A measure of how successful the camp has been, is seen in how happy the children are, Thrift said.
“Kids typically struggle with retaining the information they learned over the school year, throughout the summer,” Thrift said. “This program is an academic and social bridge for them, so they aren’t feeling left behind when they start school again in August.”
The program is also geared toward educating parents in how to work with their children at home, to give that extra time to improving what they learned during the day. Parent nights are held that give ideas for activities to be done at home with the child, as part of the “well-rounded program.”
Y-Readers will wrap up Aug. 2, but the Lincoln County team is hopeful it will be a success and will be back next year with double the amount of participants.

Aeriell Carter works on a writing exercise during the YMCA Y Reader program at Iron Station Elementary on Tuesday.

Images courtesy of

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