A cheer erupted from my class as we told them they would all get to pick out their very own books to take home and read this summer through the generosity of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, a network weaver and lead partner in the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
As I saw their smiling faces and the excitement in their eyes, I was thrilled not only because they were so excited to read, but also because I knew that they had the confidence and skills to read their books on their own through the progress they had made at Eagle Academy at Alta Vista Elementary School.
As an intern at Alta Vista’s Eagle Academy this summer, I work with a first-grade class, teaching phonics and reading to the students in groups. I have seen so much progress there as students who originally were nervous reading out loud now read with confidence and skill. Throughout the summer, they are working hard to improve their reading abilities in leaps and bounds, prevent summer-learning loss and gain an incredible advantage going into the next school year.
From struggling to success
One group I was working with came into the summer struggling to read at the same level as their peers. As I sat with them in our group, I listened to each of them try to read the poem I had given them. They needed prompting to sound out words and would sometimes freeze up when they came to a word they didn’t know. I needed to tell them the word and sound it out with them before they would continue. We did this work every day, practicing word endings and reading out loud to each other.
They continued to struggle; however, I noticed that they became increasingly self-sufficient and confident in their reading. When they came to a word they did not know, they would sound it out by themselves and figure out what the word was. They also enjoyed our poems as they found humor in the situations presented and engaged more with the text. I also noticed their writing improving as they started using words that we had talked about in their sentences, growing their vocabulary and their ability to express what they wanted to say. They were learning, and I was so thrilled to see their growth!
One day, it really struck me how far these students had come. I sat down with them as I did every day to read our poem and each one of them read the poem all the way through without needing prompting on any of the words. They recognized the words they knew and sounded out the words they didn’t, showing immense focus and concentration.
What made my heart the fullest was their support of each other. They all clapped when one of their group members finished reading and the pride on their faces was so clear. These students were reading at the same level as their peers, working with material that was for first grade, which they would be starting next year. I knew that because of the work they were doing over the summer, they would go into first grade confident in their abilities and already knowledgeable about the material. They have a tremendous advantage, and this is all because of the summer programs that keep them learning and growing.
A gift on summer learning day
On July 14, we arrived at the library for National Summer Learning Day. My students walked eagerly over to the tables full of books to choose one to take home. I asked them if they had books at home that they could read, and most of them replied that they didn’t.
This one book, therefore, made a huge difference to them. Because of these books, my students could go home and practice all of the reading skills that they worked on at school. They also could experience the amazing stories contained in books, sparking a love of reading that will inspire them to work harder to improve their ability to read. These books will change their lives, giving them the tools they need to pave the way for a successful future.
As I watched my students proudly holding their books, I was filled with gratitude for all the people that made it possible both for them to have the books and also for them to learn how to read over the summer. These students are learning so much, and summer learning creates momentum that keeps them going right into the next school year. As a result of the work they are doing this summer, each of my students is well prepared to succeed in first grade and beyond.
Katherine Ward is a student at the University of Notre Dame participating in their Summer Service Learning Program as an intern at Alta Vista Elementary’ s Summer Eagle Academy. This summer opportunity is provided by a partnership between the Notre Dame Club of Greater Sarasota and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.