Summer camp helps children improve skills

For about four weeks last summer 45 children, from kindergarten through sixth grade — many of whom were from Valhalla Elementary — spent three hours a day improving their reading skills and having a good time doing so.

It’s the seventh year AmeriCorps volunteers associated with the Federal Way School District have spent time with children who live in Camelot Square, a mobile home park in the north end of the city.

“Part of the attraction of the program was that it was something to do each day that was free, and there aren’t many free things available for these children to do during the summer,” said Maria Pina, a 27-year-old AmeriCorps volunteer who went through the Federal Way school system herself as a young student.

Pina worked with the same six boys throughout the entire three-and-a-half week session.

“They made some real progress during the camp, as was evident in their journals.” Pina said. “By the end, they were writing what they really thought and felt about things. For them it was different than regular school — they were having fun, they opened up and trusted us.”

Each child spent 20 minutes each day reading out loud in a small group of students and an adult. Those who were struggling with reading spent an additional 20 minutes with their own tutor.

While the main purpose of the summer camp was to improve the students’ reading skills, it also featured crafts and contests and other activities that were designed to ensure that reading became fun.

Monda Holsinger, the district’s AmeriCorps coordinator, said she was pleased with the fact that the 45 students read 292 books during the three and a half weeks of the program.

“That’s two books per student per week, and these were books that were stretching the students’ reading abilities,” Holsinger said. “Over half of the books were read with family members — another important way to keep children wanting to read.”

As in most schools, Friday was the high point of each week. Activities, such as a visit by a portable planetarium, a trip to the Tacoma Children’s Museum, or doing some planting around home.

The week’s lessons were oriented towards Friday’s activity.

“I think this summer camp brings people together, allows people who wouldn’t know each other to form friendships which endure beyond the camp,” said Bob Frick, Camelot Square’s manager. “I also think the families see management in a more personal light, as we get to know each other by name and develop mutual respect for each other.”

A summer camp with many similar activities was also held at the Westway Community Center for 35 kindergarten through sixth-grade students, most of whom attend Olympic View Elementary School.

Their program was one half hour longer each day because it included lunch.

In addition to reading activities, each student wrote in a journal every day.

“The kids were laughing and having so much fun together, they were impossible to ignore,” Frick said.

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