By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Tupelo elementary school students who are struggling with reading skills are getting extra help this summer from a church-based program.
This is the fourth year The Orchard has hosted SummerSALT, a summer-reading program that serves nearly 115 students, ranging from those who are entering kindergarten through those entering third grade. The acronym SALT is for studying and learning together.
“We are being proactive,” said Merissa Rambo, missions director at The Orchard, noting that community supporters made the program possible. “We looked around, and we live in Mississippi, which ranks at the bottom of the country in literacy. We need to do something about it, so what can we do?”
Students who need extra help in reading are referred to the free program by teachers, principals and others in the Tupelo School District, as well as by four local daycares. Each classroom has a certified teacher, assistant teacher, volunteer helper and no more than 12 students, ensuring small-group instruction.
“I love it because it is a concentrated time to focus on reading skills,” said Carver Elementary first-grade teacher Anita McGraw, who is one of the program’s 10 teachers. “Everything is so well organized so when we get in there with the kids, we can focus on teaching them.”
The program uses contributions from local businesses to hire the teachers and assistant teachers to work with the students. The plan is to counter the summer slide, the idea that students forget during the long summer break some of the skills they learned and then begin the new school year behind where they ended the last one.
“We looked at the research on the summer slide,” Rambo said. “Students will regress if they do nothing during the summer. We want to step into the gap and be proactive with those kids.”
“Four weeks is a short time, but it is a very concentrated time,” McGraw said. “It really makes a difference.”This is the fourth and final week for the half-day program. Students break into small groups of four and rotate through activities led by the three adults in their classrooms. The certified teachers design lessons for the students based on their weaknesses and greatest needs.
Mia Johnson, who is entering third-grade at Lawhon, said she doesn’t mind spending part of her summer attending a camp that resembles school. She’s enjoyed the variety of the activities.
“The teachers give you more things to do than to just read or play, and I like to work,” she said.
Rambo said she appreciates the strong relationship with the school district that has developed during the camp’s four years.
“I hope we are making a difference in children’s lives before those needs even arise,” Rambo said. “We hope to diminish the effect of the summer slide.
“We also hope the kids feel special and loved. We try to make it a very positive environment for the kids.”