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Dr. Martin

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Camp Read-a-Rama vs. the dreaded 'summer slide'

By Craig Brandhorst, USC News

It’s Thursday morning at the South Carolina State Library, and University of South Carolina professor Michelle Martinis sporting a multicolored propeller hat. At the moment, she is also up to her elbows in glitter and confetti, making homemade paper with a dozen area children, though she won’t be doing that for long. As the young man beating bongos in the next room just announced, “It’s time for Harambee!”— which means Martin, USC’s Augusta Baker Chair in Childhood Literacy, needs to strap on an acoustic guitar and start singing about snakes and turtles.

Martin is the founder and director of Camp Read-a-Rama, a weeklong blitz of field trips, story time events and other camp activities designed to improve attitudes about reading among children and their parents.

   

“We do a lot of music and dancing and clapping,” Martin said. “The kids are in motion constantly.”

Which is why “Harambee” is so important. A Swahili word meaning “come together,” it’s a signal that Martin’s counselors and volunteers need to rally the kids, ages 4 to 11, for a medley of sing-alongs, chants, dance routines and a story time reading from that morning’s guest reader, in this case assistant professor of English Sara Schwebel, College of Arts and Sciences. 

Camp GalleryCamp Read-a-Rama has developed organically since its inception in 2009, and Martin has been careful not to expand the program too quickly. As a result, participants receive plenty of personal attention, whether they are doing crafts or on one of several scheduled field trips.

“I’m trying to grow the program slowly enough that we can maintain the quality and so that I can see exactly what’s going on on the ground,” Martin explained about the program, which she started four years ago while still in the English department at Clemson University. “We’re hoping next summer that it will be an integral part of the Richland County Public Library summer reading program and that we can migrate between the different branch libraries, because the RCPL staff is just fabulous.”

Inspired by the Freedom School movement started byMarian Edelman Wright and the Children’s Defense Fund, Camp Read-a-Rama is ultimately envisioned as a way to offset the so-called “summer slide” whereby students lose ground academically during the months off from school.

“Statistically, kids lose three months of their educational progress over the summer,” Martin said. “When they hit the ground in August, most of the kids are still in March, which is a real shame.”

Of course, the kids aren’t the camp’s only beneficiaries. Martin was assisted by a team of college students, who gained invaluable mentorship experience helping the kids transition from one event to the next, typically with very little downtime.

Several guest readers also made appearances, including RCPL Director Melanie Huggins and a number of USC faculty such as College of Mass Communications and Information Studies Dean Charles Bierbauer and Library and Information Science Director Samantha Hastings.

Schwebel, Thursday’s reader, was excited to participate and clearly thrilled by the positive, high-energy atmosphere.

“This group of kids is just primed for reading,” Schwebel beamed after sharing the popular children’s book “Rattletrap Car” by Phyllis Root and Jill Barton. “The kids connect to books in a way that is joyful and life-giving. It is just such a pleasure to read to them.”

“As a reader, you integrate books into every aspect of your life,” she added. “Sometimes you read a picture book before a child is going to sleep at night, and then obviously the purpose is to be soothing and to prepare the child for the transition from a busy day into the nighttime, where they’re going to be alone with their thoughts and dreams. This is a different kind of experience, where you’re sharing a book to get them excited, sort of helping them milk everything they can out of life.”

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