By Kristin Sullivan
Summer Learning: Project Transformation
Across the nation, combatting summer learning loss is a core goal of collective impact work focused on third-grade reading proficiency. The Wallace Foundation, the Rand Corp., the national Campaign for Third Grade Reading and the National Summer Learning Association each advocate for increasing access for children to strong summer learning programs that blend academic learning, hands-on activities, arts, sports, technology and meaningful relationships.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price encouraged the Fort Worth Literacy Partnership to form a Summer Learning Collaborative Action Network in January 2017 to ensure that summer youth programs help children maintain and gain literacy skills. More than two dozen community organizations joined forces to begin to map out how to align and strengthen efforts this year.
A week before the start of the eight-week camp, staff members weren’t so sure that children would show up. But as of this month, Project Transformation is serving 124 children at its two Fort Worth sites and another 33 in Bedford.
“Our vision is to be a ministry in service through which leaders emerge, communities change and lives transform,” says Julie Harding, Project Transformation Central Texas executive director.
“We know that early childhood literacy is the key to all learning, and that there is a huge disparity in literacy levels among kids from lower socio-economic levels. If we can lead them to lives of increased literacy, that is a springboard to a fuller life.”
The camp operates 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and is led by full-time staff members who manage a select team of paid, college-age interns who are interested in a career in ministry and live in what organizers call “an intentional community” at Texas Wesleyan University throughout the program.
The daily schedule includes Bible story time, art and creative activities, health and physical activities and an afternoon reading session focused on core competencies of phonetics, vocabulary, phonemic awareness, fluency and comprehension. The goal is to build skills while sharing a love of reading with participating children.
Each site has a leveled book libraries assembled by volunteers who culled through donated materials and color-coding titles by difficulty level according to national scales. UMC churches help recruit and vet adult volunteer reading mentors, who read one-on-one with camp kids for 30 to 40 minutes daily.
Camp counselors and volunteer readers note observations about literacy skills for parents each day; the program uses a modified reading assessment tool developed by Columbia University to measure growth.
Harding plans to expand the summer literacy camp to serve Central Texas Conference communities from Waco to Killeen and Corsicana.
“Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that’s what we are trying to do: love our neighbors,” Harding says.