Where Children And Wild Words Are

Mcdaniel College Clinic Helps Campers With Reading And Writing

July 04, 2009|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,arin.gencer@baltsun.com

Inside a cabin at Camp McDaniel, a handful of kids sat on sleeping bags around a fire of red and yellow paper and empty paper-towel rolls.

A few doors down, others zipped themselves inside tents, reading quietly. And under a string of fairy lights, their peers next door took turns reading part of a story aloud.

The campsite - 10 classrooms at Mechanicsville Elementary School in Carroll County - was noticeably devoid of insects and blazing summer heat, but abounded in books of every shape, size and subject. The scene was typical of McDaniel College's summer clinic for children needing help with reading and writing.

"We want the kids to think this is a really cool place to come," said Debra A. Miller, an associate professor and coordinator of the college's graduate reading program. Miller said she aims to have the children leave not only as better readers, but lifelong ones.

The four-week camp, started by McDaniel President Joan Develin Coley nearly four decades ago when she directed the graduate reading program, is a required component of the college's graduate reading specialist program. As part of the class, the participants, many of whom work as teachers, write final reports for the children so their parents - and their schools - know what they've done and what strategies worked with them.

Thirty clinicians, known as "rangers" to the kids, are working with the 80 or so Carroll students who are mostly from elementary schools. This year, she said, the school district paid the $150 fee for 25 students from Elmer Wolfe Elementary, a Title I school, to participate.The children spend each three-hour day in a variety of reading and writing lessons, from a group session that starts the day to independent reading time at the end. In between, they do word and writing exercises, and work on their individual challenges.

Even snack time has a built-in lesson.

One morning in Cabin 5, students pulled out snack recipe books to make "rotten redheaded older brother cupcakes," named after the book they had just read.

"Tell me, what do you need?" said Beth Chaney, one of three teachers in the room, to the children at the table.

"One napkin or plate. One cupcake, one plastic knife, three chocolate chips. One Twizzler pull-and-peel licorice," read Hunter Barber, 8. He and his peers took turns reading as they pulled apart and cut the candy to make strands of red hair and used the chips for eyes and a nose.

"And what does direction No. 6 say?" Chaney asked.

"Enjoy!" Stevie Dustin, 7, said with enthusiasm, popping a Twizzler into his mouth.

Down the hall, others were designing "ants on a log" - celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins - and graham-cracker American flags.

Robin Townsend, principal of Elmer Wolfe and previously of Mechanicsville, said she wanted her students to have access to the quality program she'd had the chance to observe firsthand, witnessing its benefits and students' progress.

Townsend said she "was very impressed by the quality of the instruction and the thoroughness of the staff, the attention to detail. It was a very systematic approach to working with children who are struggling readers."

The kids she's spoken to "are really enjoying" the clinic, she said, and are probably learning without realizing it.

That seemed to be true this week, as the campers in Cabin 3 spread out to read books of their choice.

While some campers remained on sleeping bags, Alex Hillis, 7, claimed the camp chair that ranger Julie Armstrong had just occupied while sharing a story with the group.

Alex opened My Sloppy Tiger so the pages faced the room and began to read aloud to himself - and anyone listening.

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