A new United Way program in Swift Current helped young learners to maintain and improve their literacy skills during the summer vacation.
The Summer Success literacy camps for 30 students from All Saints Catholic and École Centennial schools took place from July 22 to Aug. 2.
The camps concluded with a graduation ceremony and pizza lunch for campers and their families, Aug. 2.
United Way Regina’s literacy program partnered with the Holy Trinity Catholic School Division and the Chinook School Division to bring the program to Swift Current. Financial support for the literacy camps were provided by the Knight Automotive Group and an anonymous donor.
According to Stacey Schwartz, United Way Regina’s literacy coordinator in the Swift Current area, the inaugural camps were a huge success.
“For our first two camps that we ever piloted here in the community to have the engagement that we had from the businesses as well as the financial support and volunteer engagement as well as the students and parents and their commitment,” she said. “Our attendance throughout the 10 days was pretty much 100 per cent. Everybody was very committed to ensuring that the kids were getting as much out of the program as they could. I think that alone, the fact that they were showing up every day, being engaged was a huge success.”
The benefits of ongoing reading activities during the summer were evident from assessments of students at the camps.
“We've already done some assessments, and the kids are either at par, where they haven't decreased, or a lot of them have jumped two, three levels already in their literacy,” she said.
The “summer slide” can occur during the school break, when students can experience a loss of reading progress due to a lack of structured literacy activities.
Both camps were full, each accommodating a maximum of 15 students from kindergarten to Grade 3 from the two participating schools.
“The teachers in the spring actually hand-select the kids from the schools that will most benefit from this program and in the most need of it,” she said. “Throughout the weeks we did breakfast together and then they would go to their separate camps with their teachers. We have a 5:1 ratio. Another part of the program that’s quality is they’re getting that one-on-one smaller group interaction with the teacher. So they can really have the teachers give them that quality of teaching specific to their needs.”
There were excursions during the camps that also incorporated literacy activities. They toured the local museum and visited The Meadows long-term care facility to read one-on-one with some of the residents.
The Summer Success literacy camps have achieved positive results in Regina during the past four years. Schwartz already became aware of the success of these camps in Regina when she was still the executive director of the former Swift Current United Way. She was therefore eager to see the expansion of this literacy initiative to Swift Current.
“It’s meeting a need that has been identified as a gap,” she said. “It’s engaging the experts, the teachers, in our community to be the ones that actually deliver that quality leaning to the kids, and also the opportunity to engage the community as a whole to get involved and be a part of those kids’ experience and their learning. Overall, I see a lot of value when I see programs that are credible and measurable, and Summer Success had all of those components as well as quality.”
The United Way office in Swift Current closed in December 2018 and United Way Regina became responsible for continuing initiatives in southwest Saskatchewan. The expansion of the Summer Success literacy camps to Swift Current is the first visible outcome of that decision to follow a more centralized approach to the provision of United Way programs in the area.
“It was a hard decision at the time to close our local office and align and centralize with United Way Regina,” she said. “At the time the decisions were made strictly based on looking at how can we in future make strategic decisions that are ultimately going to impact the community.”
It therefore made sense to expand a program to Swift Current that has already been a proven success in other centres.
“Ultimately that's what centralizing and partnering with United Way Regina has allowed,” she said. “For existing programs to be able to come into our community as well as broaden our connections within the southwest area and have a lot of the supports and resources that just as a small office here physically wasn’t feasible and it wasn’t sustainable to maintain.”
Schwartz expected a similar approach might be followed in the future to bring programs to the Swift Current area.
“I think the hope is that it will be more of this style of community impact and investment that you'll see,” she said. “United Way coming in and helping identify other gaps or areas and then looking at partnering with other experts in those fields to create programs that will help fill in those areas.”