They’re hooked on phonics: Camp helps youngsters improve reading skills

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Three soft alphabet blocks were tossed in front of Kenya Hinnant.

The object of the game was to take the three top letters and form a word.

From an M, an E and a G, Kenya found the word Meg, a name.

Kenya was participating in West Nash United Methodist Church’s first-ever summer reading camp.

Wilson County Schools helped the church identify 22 emerging readers from Wells and Hearne elementary schools to take part in the Passport to Reading camp for rising first- and second-graders.

Pastor Tuck Taylor said the reading program is in line with efforts by the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.

“Our conference as a whole has been working to partner churches with schools to help with summer reading loss and issues of reading with children, so that has been in the fore anyway and that has certainly been an issue in Wilson County,” Taylor said.

The camp was started June 21 and runs through July 20. Students come Monday through Friday from 8:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., which includes eating breakfast and lunch provided by Wilson County Schools. The camp is free to participants.

Taylor said the academic curriculum for the camp was developed by Fay Agar, a career teacher and school administrator who is a former director for the Early College High School Initiative in North Carolina.

“She has this creative energy and wanted to put that to work and so we (were) just talking about ways to be in service and ministry to the community,” Taylor said of Agar.

The camp is divided into three 45-minute learning segments each day, plus a fourth period for enrichment.

Classroom leaders are all current or retired teachers.

In the first reading class, the focus is on phonics and word parts.

“All children need phonics and word attack skills,” Agar said. “They need to know how to sound words out. They need to know how to break words down. I think it is something that works for children.”

Agar is a huge phonics proponent.

“They don’t need to guess,” Agar said. “They need a strong skills basis to be able to attack words and to have confidence and then they can enjoy reading,”

The second class focuses on comprehension and writing.

“The focus is on reading stories, applying those phonics, word attack, structural analysis skills in context, reading stories, answering questions and writing about the stories,” Agar said.

The third class is the teacher reading stories aloud to the children.

More advanced stories are read, including the best of children’s literature.

“Part of that is modeling what great readers do and helping children develop a love for reading,” Agar said.

The aim is to develop a comprehensive program that gives students all the skills they need for reading.

“You are able to meet the kids where they are,” Agar said. “You are able to provide them with the skills that they need.”

Students are able to hear celebrated works of literature and have fun with books.

“The earlier you build skills in emerging readers or readers who are reading but who are not confident readers, the more confidence they develop and the more love of reading that they develop,” Agar said.

Developing reading skills early is vitally important to children.

“We know that if children get through grade three and are not reading that their chances of success in all areas of life go down,” Taylor said. “Those early years are so critical.”

The camp is in its third week and the teachers are seeing students move ahead.

“One group knew very little letters and now we are working on blending the sounds into words,” Agar said. “It is exciting for us to see progress.”

Taylor said the Wilson County Public Library has supported the camp by donating books for the children to take home.

“Our goal, and why we do this, comes from, first of all, who we are as a community of faith and that we want to partner with children to help them be all that God has created for them to be and to tap into the gifts that God has given them and to just surround them with love and opportunities to succeed,” Taylor said.