By Dan Jensen, Camrose Booster
A robed Roger Epp, dean of the Augustana Campus, University of Alberta, presented graduation certificates to forty-eight children at the commencement of the second Reading University program July 30.
"It is my privilege to hand out certificates to those of you who have achieved so much," said Dean Epp.
"It is important for our campus to be a place of learning for all generations and all ages."
Reading University is a summer literacy program designed to help young readers get the basics they need in order to succeed at school and beyond. The program was open by special invitation to children in Grades 2 and 3 in the city of Camrose and Tofield attendance area who need extra time and support to increase their basic literacy skills.
"It is an intense one-month program that emphasizes literacy skills of all kinds – reading, writing, comprehension, mathematics – using a variety of educationally sound techniques," states a news release on the Augustana Campus website.
The program is designed to be interesting, engaging and fun, to help children not only enhance their skills but become more excited about learning.
"The big thing we notice is a greater interest in reading and a desire to read more," said Reading University principal Ray Bosh, of the Battle River School Division.
"The students are definitely better readers by the time the program ends."
The 2010 Reading University teaching program was based on Grades 2 and 3 curriculum to ensure that students were able to focus on skills aligned with their "regular" school experiences. Teaching staff used such early literacy resources as Reading A to Z and the Scholastic early years learning program Literacy Place. Each of the program’s weeks featured different themes, such as mystery/adventure, story writing and telling, history, fact and fiction. The themes were supported by activities that included reading books, word games, acting out skits, doing research on computers, drawing pictures, using maps and reading signs to plan routes for visits to museums or airports.
"The structure of the program was really good, and we, our teachers – Katherine Cook and Casey Johnson at Tofield and Jarret Brandt and Melanie Kell in Camrose – did a great job," said Bosh.
Teaching assistants were Erika Heiberg, Diane Brosinsky and Kylie Cryderman at Tofield and Ashley Chaffey and Sandra Roth in Camrose.
The Reading University students from the Tofield Campus made several trips to the Augustana campus during the course of the program to get the "university experience," and participated with the Camrose students on field trips.
"We wanted to give everyone as much of a university experience as we could," explained Bosh.
Reading University is offered by the Battle River Community Foundation as a community leadership initiative in partnership with Battle River School Division. Battle River Community Foundation provides fifty per cent of the funding in the form of flow-through grants from generous donors.
"We feel this is a program that will have significant long term benefits to the community," said Foundation board chair Blain Fowler.
Reading University is also supported by the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta, which provides space and meals, Camrose Adult Learning Council, and the Camrose Adult Read and Write Program, which offered advice to parents on how to help their children keep reading at home.
Bosh said he has heard nothing but good comments from the parents and teachers of the students who have been involved with Reading University.
"They were really pleased after the first year and I am hearing the same good things this year," he said. "Teachers have told us that they can see a distinct difference in students who were struggling. They mention increased ability, but also increased engagement and enthusiasm for both reading and for school in general."
Bosh said the Battle River Community Foundation’s proposal for the Reading University had a direct link to the Battle River School Division’s academic goal, which states that "all students will read at their programmed level by the end of Grade 3.
"The agreement to partner once the proposal was made was immediate."
Dean Epp told the graduates they have every reason to be proud, and expressed the hope that they will return to the campus in about ten years.
"You have already figured out what the tools are – reading and hard work – and you know where the cafeteria is."
"In the meantime you can continue to think of this campus as being your university."
Bosh commended Augustana for the support it has given to Reading University.
"Augustana has been wonderful," he said.
"It is not often that you are able to get the dean of a university to adjust his holidays to be with graduates of this type of program."