Carroll County Public Schools students improve their reading and writing skills through a four-week summer program provided by McDaniel College.
Eight-year-old Logan Foels spent his Friday morning sharpening reading and writing skills at a reading summer camp provided to students at Robert Moton Elementary School.
"I don't really like to read; I just like to look at the pictures," said Logan, who explained he struggles to read at his grade level. But attending the McDaniel College Reading Clinic this summer might have brought about a change of heart.
"We do experiments, we play games — like today, we played a game about space," said Logan, a rising third-grader at Robert Moton.
He is one of 45 students being taught over the course of four weeks by certified teachers earning master's degrees in the reading specialist graduate program at McDaniel.
Students who struggle with reading are chosen to participate in the clinic, funded by the federal Title 1 program, said Kathy Wallis, Title 1 supervisor for Carroll County Public Schools.
Each year, the program has a theme to engage students and keep them interested in reading. This year that theme is space.
"We really try to set up an environment where they're excited to be here," said Jessica Smith, a certified teacher in the reading specialist graduate program. "They are astronauts in training and every day they're coming in they get to learn a little bit more about space — by the end of it they should be certified astronauts."
Cate Scholles, a certified teacher seeking her master's degree in the McDaniel program, said the space theme has been successful at engaging students this year.
"These kids really eat that up because even as adults it's super interesting so it's really, really interesting for the kids," Scholles said. "There is very high interest this year."
The summer program fulfills a course requirement for the students, allowing them to put the knowledge they have learned in their degree program into practice, said Debra Miller, professor of education and coordinator of the reading specialist program at McDaniel.
"This is an amazing experience for us — we get to basically practice what we want to do one day," Smith said. "We practice everything from teaching the students to coaching the other teachers."
Although the program initially began 42 years ago, the program is in its sixth year in partnership with CCPS, Miller said.
"We got to thinking: How could we serve some kids who could really benefit from our support, that maybe wouldn't have opportunities to go to summer school or have tutoring, with more limited resources?" Miller said. "And we thought also how could we help the school system with the interventions that they are providing to kids in our Title 1 schools."
Teachers work with students and create individual plans tailored to their needs, Scholles said. A day usually consists of reading, word study and writing, Miller said.
Both Smith and Scholles agreed they have seen improvement in their students this summer.
"The big changes I'm seeing in them is their confidence and their ability to reach their goals," Smith said. "Some of them have very specific goals and they're not necessarily independent yet, but they are gaining confidence in them and will be able to take it back to their classrooms in the fall."
Scholles said teachers will create a final report for each student, providing suggestions for parents and teachers to improve the students' reading achievement.
About 65 percent of students who participated in the program were able to improve their skills by one to three reading levels, according to the most recent data available from 2013.
"It keeps their brain engaged over the summer so they are ready when they come back to school in the fall," Wallis said. "They haven't had that huge break where they have the opportunity to lose anything that has been taught — it keeps them going to maintain their achievement."
Wallis said it's important for children to practice reading skills year round to improve reading achievement.
"There is such a thing as summer slide — when kids leave [school] they lose about 25 percent of what they learned if they don't continue to practice it," Scholles said. "The kids who we're seeing are the kids who are already high risk — they already have some missing pieces … it's really important that over the summer they're still working on filling in those gaps because it becomes a domino effect — if they don't then they're just always behind their peers."