United Way holds summer activities to help kids read

EASLEY — For many Pickens County children, summer brings the idyllic promise of vacation fun, family outings, swimming, campouts and more.

But when the school doors close each June, hundreds of Pickens County’s children from low-income families fall victim to the “summer learning loss phenomenon.” Most people have not heard of the term, but it has severe lifelong consequences for children who experience it.

According to the National Summer Learning Association, parents with the financial means invest more time and money than ever before in their children, while lower-income families, which are now more likely to be headed by a single parent, are increasingly stretched for time and resources.

During the summer months, disadvantaged children tread water at best or even fall behind. Educators call it “summer slide.” Children from families with resources build their skills steadily over the summer months.United Way of Pickens County, the School District of Pickens County and the Pickens County YMCA have partnered to pilot a summer literacy loss prevention program for low income children. On June 8, rising first through fourth graders from five Easley-area elementary schools arrived at Camp iRock, where they are spending the summer engaged in academic and enrichment activities. Facilitated by certified teachers and trained counselors, the unique curriculum is designed to help close the achievement gap and prevent at-risk children from falling behind over the summer months.

The 10-week program runs Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-5:15 p.m. and includes, at no cost to the children, bus transportation, breakfast, lunch and snacks, swim lessons, field trips, music, arts, physical activity, nutrition and healthy living, character development, team building and, of course, reading.

Certified teachers, YMCA counselors, a site coordinator, Clemson University “Call Me Mister” interns and volunteer mentors are providing a staff/student ratio of 1:8 during educational time and 1:12 during enrichment and meal times.

“The children are working very hard on their reading skills. Right after lunch, they play and have so much fun, just like summer camp. By the time they arrive home, they are worn out,” United Way president Julie Capaldi said. “For many of them, this is the most fun they have ever had at school.”

Upon successful completion of the pilot program, the goal is to expand Camp iRock throughout Pickens County, giving all lower-income at-risk children a chance to participate.

There is a way community members can help. Two days before camp started, organizers realized it would be wonderful if the children could take home the books they are reading at camp. They have set up a wish list at Ordering books is easy. Contact Capaldi at (864) 850-7094 x101 or for more information.