Vocabulary camp at Sharpe Elementary keeps students focused on reading this summer

Sharpe Elementary student Kyla Reed, 11, was once a shy reader. But she recently raised her hand with confidence to read a passage from her textbook during the school’s summer vocabulary camp this month.

When Kyla’s teacher Dawn Sledge asked about the difference between high and low pressure to make sure they understood what they were reading, Kyla and her classmates wiggled in their seats with their hands in the air.

Reed’s face held a satisfied smile as she answered Sledge’s question correctly.

“I want to be able to read faster and more fluently,” Reed said after class.

Twenty students are enrolled in the school’s first summer reading camp, which began on June 2 and will last through July 1.  The students and three teachers spend six hours a day, Monday through Friday,  focused on reading skills and vocabulary expansion. The program is paid for with the school’s Title I money, federal dollars geared toward low-income children.

Sharpe’s summer program is one of about 30 summer enrichment, intervention or speciality camps this summer. This year Sharpe Elementary’s goal on annual state tests was to increase student literacy from 28.1 to 45 percent – a 60 percent jump.  It is a large undertaking for a school with 70 percent of its students reading below grade level.

Whether Sharpe teachers and students were able to attain that goal will be released to the public by the state later this summer. School officials received ‘scale scores’ or early estimates of test scores in late May, but the information is for internal use only right now. Whatever the outcome of the scores,  Sharpe teachers said their work must continue to get every student reading on grade level.

This is the first year they’ve held a summer reading camp.  During a recent class nine students, some heading to fourth, fifth and sixth grades in August, began the day with word association.  The word of the day was ‘beautiful.’   Students tossed out synonyms and filled up a white board with their suggestions.

Sharpe Elementary students spend each morning doing word association to build vocabulary skills during a four week summer camp. (Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN )

“They’re going to study etymology (the origin of words),” said Sledge, who teaches third grade at Sharpe during the school year.  “By the end of the summer program, they’ll be studying SAT words.” Some of the students involved in the summer vocabulary camp were also part of the school’s Emerging Readers program, which started last October and was held on Saturdays.

“We met for 33 consecutive Saturdays,” said Stephanie Gatewood, Sharpe’s family services specialist and the facilitator of Emerging Readers and administrator for the summer vocabulary camp.

In the summer vocabulary camp and Emerging Readers, students receive computer instruction using a system called Istation, one-on-one and small group instruction, read in groups and also read independently. After word association, Sledge’s students used Istation to work on their reading skills before lunch.  Even during the lunch break, small reading lessons are common place. During the “share around” activity, every student is asked to stand in a circle and tell what they’ve learned during the day.

Kyla, who will be in fifth grade this fall, is in both programs and has seen bumps in her reading and vocabulary abilities, according to Istation reports.

Sharpe Elementary students share what they’ve learned during summer vocabulary camp. (Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN )

In another Sharpe classroom, seven second grade students in Amber Perry’s class had a discussion about vegetables that grow underground.  The students shared their favorite foods and Perry helped them with their spelling.

That afternoon, Perry’s students learned adverbs, verbs, adjectives and sight words. Back in the cafeteria, Sledge’s students discussed the characters, setting and plot from a story titled, “A Package for Mrs. Jewls,” an excerpt in their “Journeys Common Core” textbook. The students grew excited when Sledge explained they would be acting out the story. They all raised their hands to claim which characters they wanted to portray.

One student clamored to portray the teacher in the story, ‘Mrs. Jewls,’ while another wanted to be ‘Louis, the janitor.’

Sledge ended up drawing their names from a box to determine which parts they would read. When it was time for the run-through, students began to prepare the props they needed and held onto their textbooks to read their lines.

Sharpe principal Gary Zimmerman said the school has spent a year in a ‘hyper focus’ on reading. “We want to raise our students for the next grade level,” Zimmerman said.

Joel Jordan portrays Louis the janitor during a class read-through of ‘A Package for Mrs. Jewls’ from Wayside School is Falling Down (Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN )



Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013. Follow us on Twitter: @TajuanaCheshier@chalkbeattn. Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chalkbeattn. Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates on Tennessee education news: http://tn.chalkbeat.org/newsletter/