As a child, I was fortunate that my parents instilled in me the value of reading and its role in acquiring a good education. Now, as a young adult, I know that had it not been for my love of reading and the pursuit of knowledge, I would not be the person I am today. This summer the perfect voluntary opportunity came up for me: at a reading camp organised by the Jamaica Intensive Reading Clinic (JIRC).
Through my work with Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), I have been exposed to many issues that affect our children – education, literacy especially, being paramount. At JFJ, we are committed to children’s welfare, without exception, and such I was pleased to interact with children in this different context. The second staging of the island-wide Summer Reading Camp targeted children who were below required reading level and struggled with literacy concepts such as fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
400 volunteers break down barriers
About 500 children, aged 6-17 years old, were helped by some 400 volunteers in 18 locations across the island, under the theme ‘Breaking Barriers: Building Literate Communities in the 21st Century’. I was stationed at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona with 30 other volunteers helping 83 children. Volunteers and participants alike came with diverse backgrounds, interests and talents – all the makings of an eventful week.
Catering to children meant using fun activities such as word scrambles, spell-offs, quiz competitions, and modifying games like musical chairs and snakes and ladders at every opportunity to achieve literacy outcomes. Motivational sessions, alternately hosted by a nurse, youth leader, and firefighters helped boost their confidence; and a Jamaica-themed show-and-tell encouraged them to speak up about their interests. On the final day of the camp, a sports day was held, cleverly combining sporting activities with literacy-themed events, which tremendously boosted their enthusiasm.
Preventing children from falling behind
During the long summer holidays when many children fall behind on their learning – the dreaded Summer Slide – I was happy to support this initiative which sought to ensure that no child was left behind. When back at school many children get lost in a classroom with 30+ other students, and are overlooked and negatively labelled by their teachers for their academic shortcomings. These are the children for whom programmes like JIRC seek to help: the quiet boy at the back of the classroom who doesn’t like to read aloud, not because he cannot read but rather, because he lacks the confidence; or the little girl who struggles with comprehension but otherwise reads well for her grade level.
We repeat this mantra that children are the future, but are we doing enough for them today? We say, ‘every child can learn, every child must learn’, but there remain significant barriers in how we choose to educate. It may seem like we cannot help them all, but if each volunteer made a difference for at least one child this summer, then this camp was a huge success. It shows that, in small ways, we can all make an impact and feel all the better for it.
For more information, and to volunteer, visit: jamaicaintensivereadingclinic.com