Kenneth Kunz, Ed.D. is currently K–12 Supervisor of Curriculum & Instruction at Middlesex Public Schools. This post is also co-authored by Kathyrn Diskin and Elizabeth Tamargo.
Embracing All Literacy Learners
Middlesex School District, located in a small New Jersey metropolitan suburb, is home to a diverse student population of approximately 2,000 students. This past summer our Middlesex administrative team’s goal was centered on encouraging the English learner population to read for fun, while promoting access and equity by putting more books in the hands of our students. As Richard Allington notes in his research, summer and extensive breaks from formal school instruction contribute to significant losses in gains related to students’ reading.
Our quest for resources began with a desire to uplift an already successful #READ4Fun program to broader heights with a new literacy vision. A special feature of the Middlesex School District is a community-wide desire to get involved to make an impact.
During the summer of 2017, students who were enrolled in Spanish foreign language classes at Middlesex High School volunteered their time to participate in “Hablo Ingles,” a program aimed at building the confidence of young English learners at the elementary level through community-building and speaking and listening activities. New this year, we focused on students’ literacy development by implementing LitCamp. The 4-week summer literacy program took on a life of its own with the involvement of motivated high school volunteers who helped build English learners’ confidence and excitement for reading.
When LitCamp first began for ESL students, materials were organized by grade level and high school volunteers participated in an after-school training to become acquainted with how to organize each 90-minute day. While materials and resources helped get the program started, it was the love for teaching and learning that made all the difference. Volunteers went above and beyond to design warm and inviting learning environments, create team building activities, and celebrate students’ learning, earning countless hugs from kids.
Another key component of the program involved promoting teacher leadership by creating the position of ESL LitCamp Coordinator funded through federal title grants. In this role, Mrs. Tamargo helped to organize and supervise the volunteers, check in daily to ensure that things were running smoothly, and collect and analyze data.
Outcomes and Next Steps
After reflecting on artifacts, survey results, and anecdotal records, our team found that the average student enjoyed anywhere from 14–20 books over the course of four weeks and students’ attitudes towards reading showed positive growth. On the first day of LitCamp, as she welcomed students into the classroom, Mrs. Tamargo noted in her daily journal, “Both the counselors and kids seem nervous today. Everyone is becoming familiar with the routines and structure and where to go. Student A is dropped off early and picked up late. He speaks very little English and appears shy.”
On the last day of camp, her entry read: “The counselors really went all-out for the students, bringing in macaroni and cheese and preparing summer gift bags. The halls are filled with the sounds of kids playing games and singing songs. Student A was able to spend the entire day with his group. When it came time to dismiss, we had lots of kids crying when their parents translated in English that this was the last day of camp. Student A gave the best hug before he left. There were lots of smiles when students realized they could take all of the books home with them.”
To further spread excitement about literacy across the community, Pam Allyn, author and Founder of the nonprofit LitWorld, visited as a keynote speaker during the district’s back-to-school kickoff day. Everyone in the school community was present (including teachers, administrators, lunch aides, administrative assistants, custodians, maintenance workers, and many more). We couldn’t agree more with her beliefs that all students have great potential to become Super Readers, and we all play a crucial role in this mission!
Of course, we also believe that this excitement for literacy should last throughout the year. During the summer, students wrote post-cards to their principals, proudly announcing how many books they read and what they enjoyed most of all. Principals made their rounds throughout the schools during the first week of school to locate and celebrate each student individually—the students were beaming with joy! Continued encouragement from teachers and schools leaders combined with individualized conferring in our language arts classrooms will keep the momentum going.
Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Reading Achievement Gap, Allington (2013).