If you visit CLI’s Fifer Family Learning Center these days, you just might find 20 kids sitting in the shade, each one engrossed in a different book. Welcome to Camp Read-Away! For 20 minutes each day, the kids in our Summer Camp enter another world. As we near the end of the Camp’s 6th and last week, Mr. Joseph, one of CLI’s dedicated and well-loved teachers, tells me that the campers have logged over 100 books total so far. Since each child is competing to read the most books, there’s no telling what that total might actually look like by the end of the week. A special prize awaits the top 3 readers: a new book each month for the next year—12 new adventures to keep on their shelves forever. Yet every child wins the best prize of all: the joy of reading for the rest of their lives.
Eleven-year-old Kayleen is one of Camp Read-Away’s most avid readers. So far, she’s read ten books and hopes to make that fifteen by summer’s end. Earlier in the summer, she was in the house, staying safe from the pandemic. She couldn’t see her friends, so she was bored and without much to do. Then came Camp Read-Away. When I ask her what she likes about Camp she says, “I get to go outside and have fun while being safe.” Yet the best part is having new books to read. “Reading got me into a whole new world; it got me out of COVID,” she says. Kayleen’s favorite books are graphic novels, and two of her favorites this summer are Real Friends by Shannon Hale and Dog Man by Dav Pilkey. Both books emphasize integrity and helping each other out when trouble hits. Entering the enticing and imaginary world of words, the kids learn how to solve everyday problems at home and school and the importance of taking care of each other.
In addition to our Camp Read-Away activities, CLI’s Summer Camp program also takes campers to new worlds through virtual travel. And Mr. Joseph is a superior travel guide. “We’ve gone to the zoo to learn about new animals, an aquarium to view underwater plants and sea life, and several historical sights,” he says. The kids learn about their own neighborhood, too, through trips to Four Mile Conservatory, bird watching, and fishing. “One of my friends caught a fish,” recounts Kayleen. “It was SO exciting!” Finding bugs and identifying trees and local plants in the area round-out Summer Camp’s educational activities. But there’s more: the Summer Camp kids also learn how important it is to give back to the community. This year they traveled the neighborhood to pick up trash and posted signs on the river’s drainage areas when they noticed there weren’t any.
Every year, the goals of our Summer Camp program include minimizing the learning gap that summer months create by giving neighborhood kids a safe and fun place to learn. By including Camp Read-Away in our programming this year, we are also teaching kids how to expand their worlds outside of Chirilagua and the stresses we all face with the pandemic. Has it been a success? If we asked Kayleen, I’m sure she would smile and answer with a resounding “Yes!”