CARY — It’s still winter, but third-grade students in Wake County’s year-round elementary schools are attending “summer” reading camps this week to meet the requirements of North Carolina’s new Read To Achieve law.
Under Read To Achieve, third-grade students who don’t pass the state’s end-of-grade reading test risk having to attend six-week summer camps to try to improve their literacy skills. Most of the state’s public schools will hold their camps in June, but Wake’s year-round schools started them now because their calendar doesn’t include a long enough break after the end of the school year.
Wake school administrators briefed school board members Thursday on how they’re trying to make the new state-mandated camps work. It’s an approach that will be carried over into Wake’s traditional-calendar schools and potentially copied by other districts.
“The state did not provide us with the structure,” said Sherri Miller, Wake’s director of literacy programs. “In fact, most of the state is really not thinking about this yet because their camps won’t be until June.”
The camps, included in the law backed by the legislature’s Republican leadership, are free for families whose third-graders who fail the reading exam and who are not covered by the state’s exemptions.
Students who don’t pass a retest after the reading camp or who don’t attend the camps are listed by the state as being “retained” in third grade. But Wake school officials say they consider those children, who will be placed in a fourth-grade class with students who passed the reading exam, to be fourth-grade students who need additional assistance.
There have been widespread concerns that large numbers of third-grade students statewide would have to attend the camps. Amid these concerns, the State Board of Education allowed school districts to use local tests to show that students are meeting the Read To Achieve requirements.
Last week, the State Board also changed the minimum score needed to pass the state exams, including the third-grade reading test.
But Wake’s year-round schools don’t have the luxury afforded their traditional-calendar counterparts of waiting for their students to take the exam before being placed in a camp. Year-round schools eliminate the long summer breaks in favor of three-week breaks scattered throughout the school year.
Wake’s year-round schools placed students in their camps who had been identified as being most at risk of not passing the test. School officials said they didn’t have numbers on how many students are in the camps this week.
Kids help design themes
James Overman, Wake’s senior director of elementary school programs, said the camps at the year-round schools will allow them to work out any “kinks” when the traditional-calendar schools hold their programs this summer. While each year-round school is holding its own camp, he said they’ll use 23 regional sites for the traditional-calendar schools.
Miller said they knew they had to make sure the camps didn’t seem like punishment. So the camps have themes such as “wacky animals” and “wild weather” that were chosen by the students.
“We knew that this program could not be like a traditional summer school,” Overman said. “We felt that it was very important for students to have the opportunity to learn, but also to enjoy their time.”
The full-day camps divide the days into different activities, including time for students to read aloud, to work in small groups and to work one-on-one with the teacher. There are also art projects and online activities.
Miller said the response has been positive from students, parents and teachers.
“Students are feeling successful,” she said. “They are glad that they came.”
The efforts were applauded by school board members who said Wake’s size as the largest district in the state made it easier for them to implement the program.
“There are districts that are going to struggle with this,” school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said.