The laughter fell in waves at Windsor Park Elementary on this balmy summer night. A light moment would arise and a shower of laughs would fall across the school library; seconds later, its translation would send a second volley tumbling down. Roughly half of the 25 parents in attendance spoke English, the others native Spanish speakers, all of them here to learn how to help their child improve as a reader.
Taught by COED Dean Ellen McIntyre with the help of a translator, the bi-lingual reading workshops were one of the first offerings from the Center for Health, Education and Opportunity (CHEO)—a community outreach program launched collaboratively by UNC Charlotte and the Aldersgate retirement community. The workshops were offered in concert with a four-week, all-day summer reading camp pilot attended by 35 Windsor Park students.
According to parents, the impact of the camp was clear: “He knows more, he’s reading billboards as we drive down the street, he’s learning to love reading,” said one mother. Another remarked that her child was excited to go to camp each day, and liked reading in both English and Spanish.
While the summer camp held its end of summer celebration earlier this month, CHEO is a permanent outpost that will serve as an education center and provide caregivers and families in the surrounding area access to community-based health and disease-prevention services year-round. It occupies a 6,000 square foot space that previously housed the Shamrock Senior Center, and is the first venture of a master plan to improve the physical and economic health of Charlotte’s east side, which has grappled with underdevelopment and high crime rates.
The reading portion of the summer camp was designed by UNC Charlotte literacy faculty, who provided training and joined teachers from Windsor Park Elementary and UNC Charlotte education majors in implementing a research-based intervention. College of Education faculty also trained elders living at Aldersgate to assist with reading and support the students as they practice new skills.
“The reading program is individualized so that children practice skills targeted toward their specific needs and they read books at their reading level. This is essential for students who struggle with reading it is critical for moving their reading levels over the summer,” said Dean McIntyre. To be most effective, these efforts need to be coupled with programs that empower parents to help their kids read, McIntyre explained, noting that this was the philosophy behind the evening workshops. Parents were provided easy-to-use tips and worked with their children under the supervision of teachers, and each student was given a free book to take home at the end of the lesson.
Windsor Park teachers said they were energized by the summer programming, and emphasized the importance of the workshops in particular.
“Empowering parents is probably the biggest thing we can do for kids,” said David Flores, a 5th grade English as a second language teacher at Windsor Park. “Kids will learn at school, we need to help ensure they continue that progress at home. Parents want to help, they just need to be taught how.”
And indeed, many attendees said they at times feel lost in trying to help their children with reading, some struggling with reading themselves.
Data from the summer pilot will be used to build a new model for summer literacy programs. The goal is to secure the needed resources to establish a year-round, permanent reading and teacher preparation clinic serving east Charlotte elementary students.
Additional year-round programming is slated to begin this fall.
by: Wills Citty