UND literacy program develops teaching skills while nurturing local youngsters' love for books


Kate Menzies

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UND literacy program develops teaching skills while nurturing local youngsters' love for books

The University of North Dakota's campus was a buzz this summer with elementary students searching for a good book and a good time.

Each year at UND, the Summer Reading Camp welcomes school-aged students to campus for 10 days of jam packed literacy learning and celebration.

The Summer Reading Camp intertwines with two companion courses that UND graduate and undergraduate students are able to enroll in. One course is designed to study curriculum, assessment and instruction, and the other course is for practical application.

The Summer Reading Camp provides a unique teaching and learning opportunity for UND students; they study effective teaching practice, and later, serve as teachers who are responsible for the planning and instruction of a small group.

The mission of the camp is to help school-aged children from the local and surrounding area develop a love of reading all while teaching them to become more proficient with their literacy skills.

"We want campers to learn how to read, but as teachers, we also want to model our enthusiasm and love of literacy so campers will want to read, now and when they leave camp," said Pamela Beck, UND associate professor and director of the Summer Reading Program. "Our goal is for the children to know and believe that they are readers and writers and that they are capable and successful members of a literacy community."

Campers are first to seventh graders. The Summer Reading Camp offers continued educational support for students outside the school year and follows the Grand Forks Public School System's summer program curriculum.

Positive attitudes and encouragement is valued within the camp, as often, students come to the camp lacking confidence in their literacy skills.

"We want our campers to know that we believe in them, and that we will work hard to create experiences that help them be successful with books," Beck said.

UND students enrolled in these courses are given the opportunity to experience responsive instruction. Using assessment findings, teachers tailor instruction for the particular needs of campers. Since all of the UND students participating in the camp are pursuing professional development either in their current classroom or their future classroom, the camp allows them to take responsibility and make informed instructional decisions while developing relationships with campers and their families.

Frannie Sletten, is a UND graduate student who recently accepted a kindergarten instructor position at Lake Agassiz Elementary School.

"This camp has probably been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life," she said.

She enjoys watching students transition from dreading to loving reading. She spoke of parents who have emailed her saying their child now loves to read and how the camp has provided such a positive educational experience.

"To have that impact on a child's life is pretty remarkable," said Sletten.

Sletten has no regrets about taking this course.

"I was able to take the stuff I've learned and apply it directly to become a better prepared teacher," Sletten said. "I feel like I actually made a difference."

For Ellory Gardner, an incoming first grader at J. Nelson Kelly Elementary, this was her first time at Summer Reading Camp.

In her words, "camp is awesome." She spoke of her love of dog books and how she made many new friends at camp. She said she wants to come back next summer.

And for Gunner Spicer, an incoming second grader at St. Michael's Catholic School, this is his second year at Summer Reading Camp.

"I really like to read," he said.

He talked about his love of reading in the "genre tents," which are decorated areas that students can read in and really get excited about stories.

With the fun, educational atmosphere and qualified, enthusiastic student instructors, the camp has grown from about 60 students to 90 students in the last year. That trend only looks to continue.

As Dr. Seuss said it best "the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."

And with the help of UND, these student instructors and children will go far.

Kate Menzies University & Public Affairs student writer

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