Drexel junior Kim DelPorte instructs one of the 21 elementary students at the Summer Literacy Camp in the Metropolitan Baptist Church.
Inside the Metropolitan Baptist Church at 35th and Baring streets on a Tuesday morning in late July, children are trickling in for a day of reading and writing instruction, armed with novels and notebooks.
It may be summer, but neither the 21 kids making their way through the front doors nor the Drexel University graduate and undergraduate students waiting to teach them are taking time off from their educations.
The first edition of Drexel’s Summer Literacy Camp launched in mid-July, offering a four-week run of lessons aimed at preparing these third-, fourth- and fifth-graders for the coming school year and ensuring they stay on track for language fluency.
“Students who aren’t considered fluent in reading by the fourth grade have a lower rate of graduation,” said Holly Frabizio, a middle-school teacher in the Pennridge School District working on her reading specialist certification as a graduate student in the School of Education. “Giving them the skills and strategies to become proficient readers can really help advance that, or at least keep them at grade level. So we’re really trying to prepare them for the future even though they’re young.”
Frabizio is among the instructors at the camp, which is run by the School of Education’s Vera Lee, EdD, an associate clinical professor, and Lori Severino, EdD, an assistant clinical professor, with assistance from Mary Jean Tecce DeCarlo, EdD, an assistant clinical professor. The students come from Philadelphia public and charter schools, including Lea Elementary and the Penn Alexander School, and attendance is free. All that’s asked of them every weekday morning for the camp’s duration is that they show a willingness to learn and have some fun while they do it.
The camp’s theme is “All About Me,” Frabizio said, and the students have been writing narratives that echo the sentiment.
“We want the students to come in and read and write about themselves and think about the people they want to be and express themselves,” said Frabizio.
Each day the kids rotate in small groups through three lessons: one in reading, one in writing and one that implements an intensive intervention program used for students with language-based learning disabilities. The latter, called Wilson language training, is an increasingly in-demand certification for teachers, Frabizio said — one that typically takes a year to complete but is being accomplished in just four weeks by the Wilson instructors at the camp, a group composed of local teachers. Frabizio designed the camp’s program along with three other main instructors: Michelle Manning, an elementary teacher in the Springfield School District; Anne McHenry, an elementary teacher at the Springfield Literacy Center; and Amy Seder, a high school teacher at the Center for Student Learning Charter School in Levittown.
Hayden O'Rourke works with a student at Drexel's Summer Literacy Camp.
Kim DelPorte, a junior elementary education major at Drexel, comes in twice a week from nearly an hour away to help students boost their reading skills as an aide to the instructors. She first got involved with the Sunday Literacy Program offered by the Free Library of Philadelphia; joining the literacy camp was a natural extension. The more time she can spend soaking up information and ideas, the better prepared she’ll be when she graduates.
“Every kid is an individual and they have different needs and ways to help them, and it’s always good to learn new strategies,” said DelPorte, who will be student teaching at West Oak Lane Charter School in a fourth-grade classroom this fall. “Being with different teachers, you learn different things from them, and from the kids. You’re constantly learning and growing.”
Like DelPorte, Hayden O’Rourke, a sophomore secondary education major, is hoping to maximize his field work after teaching one-on-one literacy lessons at Paul Robeson High School this spring. He’s used to working with older students, but serving as an aide at the literacy camp can help him develop different skills and broaden his foundation, he said. It doesn’t hurt that his pupils are energetic and eager to learn.
“The kids are great,” said O’Rourke. “We have some kids who are high achievers, who really go above and beyond. There are students here who really want to learn, and it’s awesome.”
DelPorte said even early on she could see how ready the students were to make strides.
“For a lot of them it’s about confidence,” said DelPorte. “They struggle a little bit as they’re reading, but if you compliment them and let them know what they’re doing well, they instantly take off with it. It’s great seeing how enthusiastic they are about it.”
The kids may have been learning while at the camp, but that didn’t stop them from having fun. As Amare, one of the first children to arrive that July morning, said in succinctly summarizing his experience with the program, “This camp is really cool.”