Getting ready for first grade

Preparation: During summer camp and after school, Agape House gives children the help they need to succeed.

September 02, 2001|By Joy Green | Joy Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At Agape House in Southwest Baltimore, summer camp is over, the games are finished and the field trips done. But for children at area elementary schools, the fun that accompanies learning will continue at an after-school reading program run by the Carrollton Avenue organization.

Agape House, a faith-based community outreach organization, offers the reading program to children younger than 6 in conjunction with the Southwestern Consortium of Baltimore's Success By 6, a public-private partnership that works to prepare young children for school.

When the school year begins Tuesday, the children will meet for two to three hours each afternoon, building on the two hours of daily reading instruction they received during Agape's summer camp.

Keisha Reynolds, Success By 6's early childhood coordinator at Agape House and the reading program teacher, said she can see the effort making an impact in the community.

Nearby elementary schools refer pupils who could benefit from extra help with reading. One pupil, 5-year-old Michelle Moore, said she thought the summer camp was fun.

"I get to spend time with Miss Keisha," said Michelle, who also said that she enjoys crafts and reading funny books.

But Reynolds said the Agape House reading program, which began in March, is more than a diversion for the youngster.

Teachers at Michelle's school expressed concerns about her reading readiness in the spring and recommended that she repeat kindergarten.

Michelle's teacher agreed to promote her to first grade if she received intensive help with reading. After attending Agape House's summer camp, she is ready to begin school Tuesday as a first-grader at James McHenry Elementary School.

In Agape House's after-school and summer programs, volunteers read to children and work with them in groups or individually on basic preliteracy skills.

The help isn't limited to children. Reynolds said workers at Agape House sometimes assist parents, explaining letters they've received from their children's schools or representing them dur- ing parent-teacher conferences.

Stacy Smith, director of the Southwestern Consortium of Baltimore's Success By 6 Partnership, said her group wants to help Agape House as much as possible. Smith said that she is helping Agape House seek funding to expand its reading program.

Preparing a classroom at Agape House cost $78,000, Reynolds said. The money was used to purchase carpet, a computer, playground equipment and other materials. Children's books were supplied by the Baltimore Reads Book Bank, which also provided 200 books for adults, Reynolds said.

The money Agape House has received was the consortium's way of "planting seeds," Smith said. But, she added, there's "no need planting seeds if you can't get some sunshine and water," meaning additional funding to grow.

The Rev. Edward G. Robinson, the pastor and chief executive officer of Agape House, said he is sure the reading program will improve the children's self-esteem: "Instead of going to school feeling inferior, it's going to give them a feeling of adequacy."

Kaitlin Coolahan, 15, agrees. A member of Linthicum Heights United Methodist Church, she helped with the reading program for a few days while other members worked on a project at Agape House. Kaitlin said she thinks the reading program is a wonderful idea.

"The kids here are so fun and smart. They're really great kids," she said.

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