Getting kids interested in reading books is sometimes akin to getting them interested in spinach: a difficult, arduous challenge that can frustrate parents from cradle to college. And many resort to old fashioned bribery to get the job done because, let’s face it, it’s a strategy that works.
Thus, on Sept. 28, it wasn’t surprising to 120 elementary school kids piled into the PS 11 auditorium, on a sunny Saturday morning. Having earned loads of points over the summer for participating in Camp Literacy, the kids were now ready to cash in those points for electronics, toys, and other fun rewards.
Camp Literacy was launched by Jersey City School Board member Carol Harrison-Arnold to encourage elementary and high school students to read books recommended by the school district during the summer months so they don’t lose any academic ground gained during the school year.
The program was open to students enrolled in Jersey City Public Schools and charter school students who live in Jersey City. To participate in the program the students had to be entering grades three through 12 this fall.
Students earned points for each book they completed and for attending the weekly Camp Literacy neighborhood meetings in their communities.
Similar programs exist in other New Jersey School districts, including in Bayonne.
Through the program, which launched in June, students work with reading mentors who volunteer their time to help the students stay on track with their reading assignments. For added encouragement, the students met each week with their assigned volunteer and other Camp Literacy participants in their neighborhood. At these weekly meetings the kids played games that were based on the books they were reading or wrote songs about the book characters.
“I really enjoyed it. I thought it was fun. I like to read anyway, but this was better than reading on my own because there were other kids doing it with me,” said Imani Jones, 11, who read about eight books over the summer. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” by Jeff Kinney, was her favorite book this summer because, she said, “it was funny.”
“What I got out of Camp Literacy is that I need to read because you can get a lot of information and knowledge from reading,” Jones added.
For her effort, Jones, a Mets Charter School sixth grader, won a new tennis racquet and an opportunity to take tennis lessons.
Throughout the summer students earned points for each book they completed and for attending the weekly neighborhood meetings. Older students also earned points for reading stories aloud to younger kids.
“I would say I enjoy reading more now because of Camp Literacy,” said Diavian Rush, who said the book “Holes” by Louis Sachar was her favorite this summer because, “I liked the plot.”
The seventh grader, who attends the Cordero School (PS 37) downtown, said she wants to participate in Camp Literacy against next summer.
“Reading is fundamental and I really appreciated what the program offered the children,” said Danielle Walker, Diavian’s mother. “This program is about more than the prizes because once you learn how to read, that’s the ultimate reward and reading pays off. The more you read, the more successful you will be, the more achievements you will be able to accomplish. Having an iPad will be peanuts to owning your own home one day or owning your own business. Continuous reading is the key to any achievement.”
The range of prizes handed out on Sept. 28 was broad and diverse.
In addition to tennis lessons, there were private fencing lessons, three iPads, two kindles, iPod Shuffles, headphones, a Zeepad Android tablet, watches, train sets, and gift cards handed out to kids with the most points. A number of top readers also went home with tickets, and dinner for two, to a National Football League game, a Devils hockey game, and a National Collegiate Athletic Association Big East game.
Other prizes included opportunities to learn what Harrison-Arnold called on-the-job “life skills” by teaming up with professionals in different industries. One student, for example, won an opportunity to spend a day in criminal court with Newark Municipal Judge Marvin Adames, a former member of the Jersey City School Board. Two others, Spring Carson and Justice Scurry, won an opportunity to write an article for the Jersey City Reporter.
In addition to the Hudson Reporter and Judge Adames, prizes were donated by the Hudson County Freeholders, Local 2260, individual residents, and Eric Silverman of Silverman development, among other local companies and unions.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.