The North Area Family YMCA on Wetzel Road is offering kids the full camp experience: swimming, arts and crafts, field trips… and reading?
This year, the Y’s Camp Y-Noah, which serves kids who have completed kindergarten through sixth grade, has launched a new program to encourage literacy. In addition to traditional camp activities, the roughly 150 campers stop what they’re doing twice a day to read for 15 minutes.
“We are definitely considered experts in fun. Our kids are very, very active,” said camp director Stephanie Rhodes, the North Area YMCA’s school age coordinator. “But we wanted to incorporate this into the program, and it’s had a couple of positives. For one, it allows our kids to decompress for a little bit. When you’re going, going, going for 10 hours, those two 15-minute breaks help them to relax and regroup for the rest of the day.”
Rhodes said the idea came from Y-USA, the overarching organization through which local YMCAs operate, to address the problem of summer learning loss. Children’s reading skills and academic performance typically falter during summer months, but studies show that regular reading during the summer can keep kids’ minds active and ready to achieve when school starts. Rhodes said the North Area site opted into the program to further its efforts to support youth development.
“We first rolled it out on vacation days during the school year, when kids were with us for winter break or spring break,” she said. “This is the first summer we’ve gone all out with it. We’ve seen a lot of success and gotten a lot of good feedback so far.”
Kids can either choose from books available at the YMCA or bring their own from home for the program.
“Our after-school program does a fundraiser each month. In June we held a book drive and a Scholastic book fair, and hundreds of books were donated,” Rhodes said. “So we have a lot of options at every reading level.”
In order to increase kids’ involvement in the project, the Y is offering a tangible reminder of the hours spent reading.
“We have a fence that separates the facility from the parking lot, and we’re doing an activity where for every hour kids read, they can tie a ribbon around the fence,” Rhodes said. “We’ve got more than 1,000 ribbons tied to the fence for the summer. It’s a great way to give kids pride in their accomplishments.”
In addition to the reading program, the Y is also offering academic support services to campers in both reading and math. Neither offering limits the kids’ camp experience, however.
“We’re not cutting into the fun,” Rhodes said. “We offer both around lunch or pick-up and drop-off. It’s just another way we can support families and kids.”
Rhodes said the program has outstripped staffers’ expectations.
“It’s been really well-received by the kids,” she said. “We were hesitant at first. We weren’t sure they’d really be into it. But the kids love it. They’re really proud of what they’ve accomplished.”
Rhodes said the reading program will continue through the school year, as will the academic support offerings. Both represent the Y’s efforts to help youths and families.
“It goes in line with our mission of youth development. It’s another piece of something we can offer to families,” Rhodes said. “And research supports that [reading during the summer] helps them when they go back to school. Since our main focus is youth development, we’re thrilled to have something that can support kids throughout the school year.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.