Tupelo Housing Authority summer camp focuses on reading

The educational experiences learned in summer camp could make the school year easier for a group of students who live in Tupelo Housing Authority communities.
This year, the housing authority’s eight-week summer camp had a heavy focus on reading. Volunteers would read to the 6- to 12-year-old children during the half-day camp, and campers could earn rewards points for reading during their free time.
They also received regular visits from teachers in the Tupelo Public School District, who led the students in various literacy exercises.
“This year, I wanted to add more to the camp because I want kids to continue reading during the summer,” said Denise Hardin, housing social services manager for the Tupelo Housing Authority. “Research shows that when kids are out of school and don’t read, there is a loss when they return.”
Teachers from Carver Elementary worked with campers for two hours each Tuesday, and those from Lawhon did so on Thursdays.
“For children who don’t have any literacy at home, we always see them fall back after the summer,” said Carver first-grade teacher Carolyn Martin. “This can be an excellent way to keep that from happening by having a set time that they read.”
In addition to reading books with the campers, the teachers also led several art projects, including creating butterflies, globes and mugs with the students’ names.
On a recent Thursday, Lawhon fourth-grade teacher Celeste Ellis introduced a game involving synonyms and water balloons. Each camper was given a balloon and a word. Spread on the sidewalk in front of the students were several slips of paper containing other words. The campers’ task was to find the synonym to the word they had been assigned and splash that word with a toss of the water balloon.
“Any time you increase literacy in the summer, it will help sustain their reading level,” Ellis said.
Camper Janiceneshia Smith, 8, said she enjoyed doing so much reading this summer.
“When I go to the library, I’ll get ready to read books,” Smith said. “When I read them, it gets me more interested in reading.”
Jarquavious Smith, 11, said he felt more prepared to start a new school year.
“When you go to school, you will be able to read better than you were before,” he said.
Campers also learned about different topics like self-esteem, recycling, American history, Magnolias and healthy living.
The campers implemented a Positive Behavior Supports system, similar to the one they use in the school district. In it, the children earn points for good behavior and use those points to get rewards.
Hardin said she had long wanted to add the literacy component to the camp and that she built the partnership with Carver and Lawhon after asking Sally Gray of Parents for Public Schools for advice.
“I know how important and critical reading is for children and for their success in education,” Hardin said.
In addition to sharpening the students’ minds for the new year, Hardin said she hoped the camp also made the students more comfortable with their teachers.
“There is a gap sometimes between the school system and the community, especially in low- to moderate-income communities,” Hardin said. “A lot of times it is hard to get parents there because of transportation barriers.
“I said, ‘Lets do something to bring teachers into the community to build relationships.’ We want to build positive relationships, and that can continue when school starts.”
Added Carver Principal Brenda Robinson: “It lets these children and their parents know we really do care. We don’t just care when school is in session. We care about them all the time.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal