Camp iRock puts effort where it’s needed

I had a chance to visit Camp iRock toward the end of July. It is a combination school district-YMCA-United Way summer camp with the focus on reading improvement, serving 150 students countywide at Pickens, Chastain and West End elementary schools.

It is a mix of reading classes and summer camp activities to help rising second-, third- and fourth-graders who are below grade level in reading. It was a Monday through Friday, 8 week program.

At Pickens Elementary, two were running the program day to day – Andrew Shipman (the instruction part, a teacher from Pickens Middle) and Josh Miller (the camp part, YMCA camp coordinator). The academic improvement was significant this summer, and the kids had a lot of fun.

I asked, how do you motivate these children who are thinking this is summer school? They said, we told them it is not summer school and showed them the camp side of it all to convince them. The first week there was no reading and no instruction, just camp.

Thereafter each morning was devoted to reading, improving research and writing skills and showing the kids how to fall in love with books. The afternoons are for camp activities like swimming at the YMCA, music, character building, soccer and field trips to places like the Greenville Zoo, Table Rock State Park and more.

I’ve long said, if a child doesn’t read well, it is more a social problem than an academic one. My children learned the building blocks of reading in school, but they became proficient reading with us at home. If that isn’t occurring, that’s a social problem and has to do with the relationship between the parent and child.

Camp iRock invests time with the parent-child relationship – how to work together to pick out books, read together at home, review and pick out a book’s themes, characters and information. Tips were sent home to parents to help re-enforce what students are learning during the week. Plus there were family nights. All geared toward integrating parents as part of the child’s education team in order to build on gains after school restarts in August.

Bigger picture, the challenges we face with many students are beyond academic. These students face social and psychological obstacles that are inhibiting their learning. For instance, when Jayne comes into school crying her eyes out because her dad is MIA, her mom is on Meth, and she is being bumped from relative to relative, putting a newer Promethean Board in her class isn’t going to help.

We’ve improved the graduation rate from 71 percent to 82 percent. To capture an even higher percentage of students and get them to the graduation finish line, we must formulate broader and more comprehensive academic-clinical efforts with students and their families. Camp iRock provides one example of how this might work.

Alex Saitta

School Board Trustee

School District of Pickens County

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