“Do you want to read with Miss Lynett or with me today?”
Mauricio smiled and thrust Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at me. “You.”
My name is Tory, and I usually work full-time at Indigo Bridge…but for the past three weeks, I’ve been working at Everett Elementary School as part of a summer camp program for some of the local second- and third-graders, organized by Everett’s Community Learning Center coordinator, Charity Iromuanya. Charity got the program going because she wanted something for kids do to during the summer that was productive and engaging, to counter the “summer slump” and help them be successful during the next school year. Over the course of an afternoon at the four-week summer camp, they do some journaling based on a prompt; they share their newly-written journal entries with the group to practice public speaking; they cook a healthy snack together, share it around, and clean up. Depending on the week, they might do some gardening, go on a field trip (the zoo, Pioneers Park, bowling, the swamp at Wilderness Park, a movie), try yoga, or study science. Oh, and did I mention that each day, every kid gets to read one-on-one with an adult for a whole half-hour?
That’s where Indigo Bridge comes in. First of all, we’re able to participate in such a fun opportunity thanks to the community support of our “Brewed to do Good” initiative, where the proceeds of all our coffee sales (yes, proceeds: not profits. We LOSE money on coffee sales, to the benefit of the community) are funneled directly back into the community. Lynett Wilson is our youth outreach coordinator, and her passion for the program – in its second year at Everett, and the third year Indigo has sponsored a reading session of this kind – is what inspired me to work with the summer camp. This year’s theme is “Under the Sea,” and we spent several days creating a watery wonderland in our classroom. A kelp forest hangs from the ceiling (“sea”ling? Eh? Eh?) and kids get to choose to do their one-on-one reading in a tropical hut, two kayaks, inside the belly of a great white shark outlined on the floor in tape, or in the seriously cool silvery submarine, constructed by our volunteer artist Rachael Belke. Dory the betta fish swims in her bowl next to the selection of picture books and early chapter books strewn across a table at the door, and the kids know the routine: select a book, pick a spot to read, and hunker down with their adult (several other volunteers have also helped over the course of the month). Sometimes, I get to read a whole book to them. Sometimes, they’ll read a whole book to me. Sometimes, we team-read and trade off paragraphs or pages. Whichever way we read the book, we enjoy it (the Cork and Fuzz series has been a constant favorite), and then the student writes the title and their name on a rainbow-hued paper fish, sticks a tropical sticker on their personal bookmark, and chooses another book. Rinse and repeat until the timer sounds.
At the end of each week of camp, the kids take home their “paycheck” for working so hard and staying so focused on reading: bottles of shampoo and conditioner, hand soap, tissues, laundry detergent – all donated by a local church. The students are proud to contribute at home with their “wage,” and they deserve every soapy cent. It can be hard to stay focused after a busy, exciting day, but they bring their enthusiasm to the classroom, and even if they’re too tired to work through a book by themselves, they still benefit immensely from listening to a book read aloud by a fluent reader. A love of literacy is Indigo’s end goal, and we can see it developing with every laugh, grimace (did you know the spittlebug creates a nest for her babies out of her own spit?! Brian L. learned that in one of our books, and shared his knowledge at the Wilderness Park field trip), smile, and excitement to choose the next book. And the next. And the next.
We’ve been devouring books for three weeks already, and the last week is drawing near. Literally hundreds of their book-fish swim across the ceiling, and their bookmarks are reaching max sticker capacity. On Friday, Trytan stopped in his tracks and said “This isn’t the last day of reading, is it?!” When I assured him that no, we still had another week, he relaxed. “Good.” Joseph was supposed to be missing the last week of camp for a family vacation. After pleading with his parents, they agreed to push vacation back a week, all so he could finish his time at camp. This is the same kid who came in after the first week and told us, with a huge smile, “My mom and dad were watching TV last night, and I said ‘nah, I think I want to read instead.’ I LIKE reading now!”
At the end of summer camp, we’ll laminate their bestickered bookmarks so they’ll have a great souvenir of all the reading they did over the past four weeks. We’ll count up all the book-fish dangling from the ceiling (last year’s jungle-themed camp produced over 400 leaves!) and have a celebratory trip down to the Haymarket, where they’ll visit us at Indigo and then Paint Themselves Silly for a little while. We’ll watch a slideshow video of all the pictures from camp. Miss Lynett will probably tear up, and I might too. At the end of summer camp, these kids will walk away with a whole month of extra exposure to literacy, and I’ll walk away absolutely thrilled that I got to share my passion for reading with an ex“sea”llent bunch of kids.