Literacy summer camp becoming part of the community fabric

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It has been six years since Frontier College began running summer literacy camps for elementary school students in Eeyou Istchee to prevent summer learning loss. While much remains the same, much has changed – for the better.

Mélanie Valcin, the regional director for Quebec, Nunavut and Atlantic Canada, says that Frontier College sees its relationship with the Cree Nation as “six years and counting.” The college is planning on returning next summer to work with children on not only preventing summer learning loss, but also to improve their ability, enjoyment and confidence as readers.

“The goal remains the same as in year one and that is to reduce summer learning loss. But a lot of things have changed in the past six years and for the most part, for the good. For example, over the years we have been able to hire more local camp counselors,” explained Valcin.

Making the project sustainable locally has been an objective all along. In the first year, the camps had 15 local employees, now the team includes 22 locals, said Valcin.

However, local hires are not the only increase; after six years, community engagement has also increased significantly. In the first year each camp had about one community member involved in facilitating an activity with the children, this summer there were about five per community.

“Usually these people come to the camp to facilitate some kind of activity, be it cultural or traditional or simply to read or be a storyteller to the children. This is important for us to see that the camp has become part of the fabric of the summers in these communities and that community members want to share their time, knowledge and expertise with the campers. This has enriched the camp experience so much,” said Valcin.

Valcin said another important change has been the amount of parental engagement, by getting parents to participate in a family literacy night or having them come in and read to the children during the day. In year one, about 36 parents throughout the region – about four or five per community – participated. This summer saw 210 parents involved in activities at the camps, demonstrating just how much the relationship become the two has strengthened over the years.

Jade Adams is a Waswanipi high school teacher who works with the camps in the summer. She is now seeing some of the participants entering high school, and says that the impact of the camp is quite evident.

“I see how it changes the way children see reading, writing and learning,” said Adams. “It’s a safe space where students can get creative, ask questions, make new friends outside of their grade levels, and bring learning outside of the classroom. Working as a high school teacher, many of the students I know who have attended camp in the past, seek out extracurricular activities, enjoy school, and have good social relationships. Even if the camps can’t always boost reading levels in only four weeks, they build self-confidence and foster positive attitudes toward learning.”

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