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Lasting literacy: Children learn importance of words during program
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Students Hannah Hairston (front) and Katelin Boyd stick their words on a word board during a six-week summer literacy program called Project Literacy 2013. The program is a partnership between Grace Presbyterian Church and the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Blue Ridge. (Bulletin photos)
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Monday, July 15, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Pelzetta Perry makes written words come alive for students.

As program coordinator of a six-week summer literacy program called Project Literacy 2013, Perry has students visualize and act out words, find a connection to words, pretend to be part of stories, read silently and out loud, and write. Many of the literacy activities are hands-on, active and multisensory.

The project is a partnership between Grace Presbyterian Church and the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Blue Ridge.

“The mission is to help children, regardless of their socio-economic status or race, reach their full potential through giving them the foundation to achieve educational excellence,” said the Rev. Jane B. Johnson, pastor of Grace Presbyterian. “The long-term objectives are to increase the reading comprehension skills of low- to middle-income students of Martinsville-West End to build their scores on the Virginia Standards of Learning end-of-the-year test,” she added.

“We have 16 volunteers (at the literacy camp), most of whom are teachers, educators and librarians, some retired and some currently teaching, and two youth helpers,” Johnson said. “Two summer staff persons from the Boys and Girls Club are with us each day and assist in the classrooms as well. ... The Boys and Girls Club donated the CPUs (central processing units) and the monitors are funded through the grant. The program is funded by Grace Presbyterian and the Speer Fund (a charitable organization).”

An average of about 35 students are attending the program, mostly rising kindergartners through rising third-graders and also a few rising fourth-graders, Perry said. She is a Spanish and English as a second language teacher for Rockingham County (N.C.) Schools and formerly at Magna Vista High School.

“They are knocking it out of the park,” Laurie Wardle, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Blue Ridge (BGCBR), said of the literacy camp. “I don’t know if the kids know they are learning they are having so much fun.”

“It’s an all-out attack on summer learning loss,” Wardle said, adding that children in poverty get further and further behind during the summer.

The camp runs from about 9:15 to about 12:45 Mondays through Thursdays. It will end the week of July 22-25.

At the beginning of the camp, students were given the San Diego Quick Reading Assessment to identify their independent, instructional and frustration levels, according to Perry and an outline of the project. She added that she was surprised that the majority of the children scored at or above grade level. The children also will be tested at the end of the camp to see how much progress they have made.

Perry doesn’t believe that socioeconomic disadvantages prevent children from becoming good readers, she said, noting that some people stereotype such children. “I came from poverty,” she said, adding that she grew up in Orangeburg, S.C., without running water.

Access to reading materials and having someone help a child reach reading proficiency are keys to success, Perry said.

“I believe in having high expectations” she said, adding she believes students will rise to the challenge.

On a recent day at the camp, children reviewed such things as reading left to right, and the difference between “poem” and “poet.”

Then they were given the opportunity to recite poems. Several children excitedly volunteered. They recited poems about, among other things, chicken noodle soup and apples being good to eat. One child rapped.

Perry then reviewed and continued a previous lesson that used Maya Angelou’s poem “I Love the Look of Words” to teach gerunds, a verbal noun, in English ending in “-ing”.

That poem compares popcorn popping from a hot black skillet into the mouth, to black words leaping, snapping from the white page, rushing into the poet’s eyes, sliding into her brain, which gobbles them the way the tongue and teeth chomp buttered popcorn. After stopping reading, ideas from reading stay stuck in the poet’s mind like the sweet smell of butter perfuming her fingers long after the popcorn is finished. The poem says the poet loves the look of words, the weight of ideas that popped into her mind and the tracks of new thinking in her mind.

The students and volunteers at the camp gathered in a circle as the children acted out gerunds from or based on verbs in “I Love the Look of Words”: popping, snapping, rushing, gobbling, chomping, sticking, perfuming. For instance, they squatted, then stood erect to show popping. They placed index fingers on their temples to show thinking. They took a big whiff to show perfuming.

Popcorn was cooking, and the smell filled the church fellowship area. Everyone was served a cup of popcorn after the children broke into smaller groups and went to four classrooms.

In Perry’s class, after students finished writing gerunds with letters of the alphabet, she and students began to compile a class dictionary.

One rising third-grader at Albert Harris Elementary said that at literacy camp she was learning meanings of words and how to write and use words, all of which she believes will help her in school.

A rising fourth-grader at Albert Harris said the lessons in literacy camp are helping him “get a picture of words better.” He wrote 29 gerunds that day, the most of any of the students in Perry’s class.


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