Camp Reel campers on 'Read To Be Ready' quest

June 04, 2019

Classes are no longer in session at South Fulton Elementary School, as students and staff begin to enjoy a long awaited, much anticipated Summer break.

The June sun will beckon young and old, to the parks and the splash pads, as sticky, melted popsicle trails are forged along kitchen counter tops, and grocery budgets inflate faster than floatties in a kiddie pool.

Vacations ranging from weekend warrior road trips to a continent hopping hiatus will commence, as locations of historical significance, as well as whimsical wonder are captured in the memory of sunburned souls and smart phones.

While time and funds may be limited for some, when it comes to Summer break getaways, because of a grant from the Tennessee Department of Education, partnering with Dollar General and the state’s Health Department, four South Fulton Elementary School teachers chose to stick around the SFES campus just a little longer, and take 18 students on a journey into a world of reading which is unencumbered by the calendar or the checkbook.

South Fulton Elementary educators Christa Hankins, Laura Murphy, Amanda Wilder and Penny Burton will be joined by 18 SFES students, rising first, second and third graders for four weeks, each Monday through Thursday, from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for the grant funded Read To Be Ready program, this year christened “Camp Reel”, an homage to Reelfoot Lake.

Funding for the summer reading program has been split between South Fulton Elementary and Ridgemont Elementary School, with expenses for staff and supplies covered through the $36,000 award.

Breakfast and lunch are provided for each “camp” participant, courtesy of Trudy’s Kids Cafe of Union City which delivers the meals each day.

Hankins and Murphy rotate in the program Director’s post, as three of the four teachers keep the student-teacher ratio to one teacher for every six students throughout the course of the day.

A “power hour” follows breakfast, which focuses on reading, vocabulary and journaling, and then students take a short recess after which the schedule moves into three 30-minute rotations.transitioning into separate rooms for a variety of activities.

After the first day, a camp favorite, according to Hankins and Murphy, was the book “cafe” where campers are given the opportunity to indulge in literary delicacies through dozens of book choices. As they browse the selections, they may take a few minutes to read, and then make personal selections to place in carriers, which will accompany each student to their homes when camp comes to a close.

Another facet of camp, “stump jumping”, takes a scientific approach to reading, as students and staff participate in experiments relating to topics covered.

The day ends, as do most outdoor excursions, with fellowship around the “campfire”, constructed in the school library, complete with a circle of benches, for a time of campfiire songs and reflection.

Field trips to Discovery Park of America in Union City, to experience the earthquake simulator room for a re-enactment of how Reelfoot Lake was formed and Reelfoot Lake for a pontoon boat tour are also scheduled.

Information regarding the summer reading program was sent home with students, to gage interest and response, and once interest was determined, invitations were extended, with 18 students and five more on a waiting list confirmed.

“We want to be able to take students who might be considered as ‘reluctant readers’, and show them how they can develop a real love for reading, not because they have to, but because they want to,” said Hankins, adding that the first day in the book cafe, a student picked up a book and expressed concern as to whether the book would be too difficult to read.

“I said it’s OK if the book is too hard for you to read, because you can find someone to read it to you. Either way, we are going to send these kids home with lots of books,” she said.

“The mission of this summer reading program will not focus on achievement. We want the students who are here to be able to have the freedom to explore the world of books and reading,” Murphy added.

Staff training for the program was provided as well, by the grant funding.

Other highlights over the course of camp will include a visit from a local historian who will speak to campers about Reelfoot Lake, and a meet and greet with an author of a historical fiction book, Legend of Zoey, which spotlights Reelfoot Lake.

The summer reading program is free to all students who participate.