In Grand Prairie, Texas, technology is changing the way youth and teens enjoy their summer-camp experience. By integrating technology into camp programming through a program called E-Reading, more than 210 youth, ages 6–15, in Grand Prairie’s Parks, Arts and Recreation Department (GP PARD) Summer Day Camps logged more than 3,760 reading hours in a nine-week period!
Partnering for Student Success
Research has suggested that children can lose up to 25 percent of their reading level over the summer. Summer-reading programs can help reduce learning loss, but children from low-income families lose the most. According to the Texas Education Agency’s Annual Report, approximately 72 percent of students in Grand Prairie’s Independent School District (GPISD) are economically disadvantaged. Grand Prairie’s Park Board President B.J. Nichols introduced the idea of implementing a summer-reading program as a component of summer day camps. When he asked staff, “Can we get our campers to read at summer camp?” staff replied, “We have to make it fun.”
Staff decided to implement a program that involved campers reading using computers, iPads and Nooks. However, recreation staff faced a problem: The recreation centers did not have enough computers or electronic devices for all campers. With camp right around the corner, staff requested to meet with representatives from GPISD, who loved the e-reading idea.
The school district allowed computer lab access at three elementary schools closest to the recreation centers. The school district also hired an e-reading coordinator, who worked with camp staff to ensure the campers were receiving reading comprehension skills through participation in activities that would engage them. The e-reading coordinator also chose software and instructed camp staff on how the technology would be used.
This first-time program proved to be a successful collaboration by getting campers access to materials and resources. As GPISD’s E-Reading Coordinator John Wilson states, this program “challenged the brain and helped maintain some of the reading so that the gaps will be less wide when [the campers/students] get back to school.”
Equitable Access to Technology
Many of the factors researchers cite regarding equity and technology, such as gender differences and economic differences, did not have significance in Grand Prairie’s summer E-Reading Program. Both “economically advantaged” and “economically disadvantaged” campers participated. Both boys and girls read the same amount, twice a week for an hour each session, and the well-behaved kids did not receive more e-reading privileges than others. The opportunity to read was there for all campers and the access to use the technology was made available to all, including a few campers with special needs. Reading was welcomed by the campers because they were able to use devices that many of them did not have access to at home.
By partnering with the school district, we worked together toward reducing any equity barriers that might exist in our community. Campers were allowed to read e-books that they chose. Comprehension questions helped to ensure the campers were really engaged in the reading and not simply scrolling through photos or clicking randomly. Some activities, such as research projects, allowed them to research topics of their choice that demonstrated how their lives connect to the rest of society. Maintaining reading levels was made possible through this collaboration between the parks department and the school district by increasing access to reading for the summer campers.
A Grand Impact
Many people agree that summer-camp counselors are some of the most important teachers in a child’s life because they play a huge role in motivating children. By showing the campers how much counselors love to read, both campers and staff had memorable and profound summer camp e-reading experiences. In one of the recreation centers where a branch library is located, campers wanted to visit the branch library more and check out books to take home. Many campers at that recreation center also participated in the library’s summer reading program as well, which tracked how many hardcover books they read.
The campers’ reading accomplishments were recognized and celebrated. Many campers were in attendance at GPISD’s School Board Meeting where they received reading medals in front of their peers and families. E-reading and GPISD staff were also recognized at the Parks Board meeting and were invited to present the program at a City Council briefing.
The summer E-Reading goals of helping campers maintain their reading levels throughout the summer were met. Through participation in this program, GP PARD staff and school-district staff agree that some campers will gain a new love for reading. The campers enjoyed taking part in the e-reading program, parents and guardians were very happy with the new programming addition, and the local school district appreciated the city departments working hand-in-hand to help their students maintain reading levels and strengthen the community.
Mariana Espinoza is the Senior Recreation Supervisor for the City of Grand Prairie, Texas, Parks, Arts and Recreation Department.