Literacy day camps to stop summer slide
By Lindsay Peyton
A year has passed since COVID-19 shut down schools and moved classrooms online. For students of all ages, it has been challenging at best. The Texas Annual Conference, already committed to education with the We Love All God’s Children Initiative, is stepping up this summer and next year to help in new ways.
“We know this year has been horrible for children, especially if they were already challenged in school,” Rev. Jill Daniel, head of the initiative, said. “If we know about this problem, if we know statistically what happens, then we have to do something. As the people of God, we’re called to do something and be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.”
We Love All God’s Children began its unique outreach to help children during the pandemic, transforming churches into classrooms for its Sanctuaries of Learning program. Now, the TAC is adding literacy-focused day camps to continue the effort.
“One of the things we prayed would happen is that the Houston Independent School District scholars and their families would fall in love with the church,” Daniel said.
It turned out that the churches equally fell in love with the students. “They love those kids and want to bring them back,” Daniel explained. “They wanted the kids to return for summer break.”
Now “LitCamps” will be scheduled, starting in July, to serve students entering Kindergarten through sixth grade with no cost to attend.
The mission of the LitCamp is twofold -- to stop the ‘summer slide,’ or that loss of knowledge that occurs every vacation from school, and to foster a love of learning and of God. There will also be fun summer camp activities.
“The focus is literature,” Daniel said. “We’re creating an innovative, research-based reading and writing curriculum. It will be high quality group learning that is culturally sensitive and follows Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards.”
The LitCamp will be piloted this year at three locations -- Westbury and Ebenezer in Houston and St. Paul’s in Huntsville. “After this summer, our hope is to tweak the program so we can offer all churches this option in the future,” Daniel said.
In the meantime, she is offering an opportunity for all the congregations in the TAC to join the We Love All God’s Children’s initiative in partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a program of the Dollywood Foundation that furnishes children with their own home libraries.
Dolly Parton started the program in 1995 in Sevier County, Tennessee, where she was raised. “Her father was illiterate,” Daniel explained. “She realized all that he missed in life because he couldn’t read.”
Parton wanted to help others avoid the difficulties faced by her father. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library mails free, high-quality books to children ages 5 and under, regardless of their family’s income.
Churches can donate financially to enroll children in their county and can sponsor children to receive books. Each $30 donation sponsors a child for a year. Additional opportunities for churches to get involved will be announced during Annual Conference. Individuals and other church groups are also invited to participate.
Daniel is also recruiting churches to join in a new after-school ministry, scheduled to begin in the Fall. She explained that while many congregations are now hosting a preschool during the day, more and more are felling a call to serve children after school instead.
Churches are invited to contact Daniel if they are interested in starting a program. Preparations will begin this summer.
“We will fund everything needed to get this rolling, from playground equipment to crayons,” Daniel said. “And we’ll walk them through the licensing and hiring process. We’ll walk with them until they tell us they don’t need us anymore.”
All three efforts – LitCamp, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and After-School Ministries – are focused on literacy. Daniel said that building a strong foundation in speech, reading and writing sets children up for success.
“This is one of the most significant ministries we can engage in,” she said. “Our mission is to change the trajectories of the lives of underserved and unchurched families. It’s the least we can do for the least of these – and we all have the honor and privilege of being a part of that.”
To learn more, visit txcumc.org/love or contact Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org.