While other Baltimore youngsters were enjoying the last two weeks of summer playtime before the start of school, 22 soon-to-be first-graders and kindergartners were getting up early and eagerly heading off to Hampden Elementary.
They were happily getting a jump start on learning in Hampden's third annual "Reading Jamboree" -- a program devised and run by kindergarten teacher Sharon West, who gave up vacation time to work with the children she had taught in the previous school year.
West said that when she first became a classroom teacher three years ago, she noticed that pupils did not perform to their full academic abilities until well into the school year -- a particular problem for first-graders during the first few weeks, when primary placement testing is done.
These slow starts, West said, were due to the children "not being involved in any sort of educational programs that fostered their reading abilities." The children would "lose a lot in the summer because they were not reading as much," and "did not place as well as they should" in the early testing, she said.
What these pupils needed, she decided, was a way to "refresh their memories" and get them ready for the academic reading requirements of first grade -- so she crafted "Reading Jamboree."
West, who receives no salary for the two-week, two-hour-a-day program, said she hoped it would not only prepare the pupils, but help them develop a love of reading. "Reading is important," she said, "because once children get an eagerness to enjoy books early on, that love and reading ability can be perpetuated throughout their lives."
This summer's program received financial support from the local Kiwanis Club and from fund-raising events held at the school. The money was used for materials for the pupils, including writing journals.
Many of the books have come from the Philadelphia-based Children's Literacy curriculum program used at Hampden during the school year. Parents of kindergarten pupils who attended a Children's Literacy seminar received free books and coordinated activity sheets to use as at-home support for the reading program. Books also were provided for West's classroom lending library.
West incorporated information from the school's first-grade teachers, focusing on letter recognition, phonics and vocabulary.
West said the program is academically structured, but that she keeps it "light and fun" with hands-on activities -- a combination she sees as important to its success.
And, said West, her pupils do achieve success. According to feedback from the school's first-grade reading team, her pupils have been doing well on early tests -- with a noticeable difference between Jamboree pupils and those not attending the summer program.
Reading Jamboree is open to all of West's kindergartners and, space permitting, pupils from the school's other kindergarten class. Although she had to limit the time of the program to two hours a day for 10 days this summer, West was able to include some pre-kindergarten pupils.
Parents like Cheryl Lecates are thrilled with the program. After her oldest child, Kristen, took part in the program in 1996, Lecates could hardly wait to enroll her second child, Courtney, this year.
"I can't believe Ms. West offers it all on her own time," said Lecates, who says she is sure that the program enhanced her daughter's love of reading. Real proof, said Lecates, came on the day that "Courtney begged me to take her to a bookstore before we took a trip, just so she could get a book to take to read."
"It just tickled me how well Courtney could read," she added.
Mary Griffith's 6-year-old daughter, Rachael, was an advanced reader before enrolling this summer. Wanting to keep her daughter "reading as well as she was at the end of kindergarten," Griffith rearranged family vacation plans so Rachael could attend.
The program "took Rachael even higher in her reading ability," Griffith said, adding that now her daughter "is writing her own stories."
Griffith said West "really goes the extra mile with her students."
The teacher said deciding to devote some of her summer weeks to Reading Jamboree was "a choice made at a personal level," adding that the time she spends with her former pupils "is the greatest time for me."
Pub Date: 9/20/98