KIDS Camp helps avoid ‘summer slide’

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Coeur d'Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer chats with third-grader Brenden Lessor about the dinosaur book, "Zola Runs For Her Life," that Lessor read to him on Monday at Fernan Elementary. Widmyer visited with children at the third-annual KIDS Camp literacy program, which is aimed at helping kids in elementary school be better prepared for the upcoming school year.

Brenden Lessor, a third-grader at Bryan Elementary School, read aloud to his guest reading-buddy Monday morning at KIDS Camp.

Lessor is one of 57 kids attending KIDS Camp this summer. Held at Fernan Elementary School, the camp was put in place three years ago to help second- and third-graders maintain their reading levels and prevent them from entering the “summer slide.”

Lessor read “Zola Runs for Her Life,” a book about dinosaurs. Lessor was more interested in explaining to his guest how to identify a velociraptor than what was happening in the story.

“It was really good,” Lessor said after the reading session. “I never read with a mayor before.”

Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer visits KIDS Camp every year because he believes reading is essential for a successful education.

“Showing them there are people interested in them learning, that care about them learning, showing them that reading is important, they’ll think ‘wow, these people believe in me, they want me to learn,’” he said. “You want to spur lifelong learning in these kids. I think that’s really important to do.”

Kids who have not reached the benchmark reading level going into second and third grade in the Coeur d’Alene School District are recommended by their teachers to attend KIDS Camp.

KIDS Camp runs for eight weeks during the summer, meeting twice a week for four hours. Each student reads and studies math for 30 minutes each, gets fed breakfast and lunch and gets to participate in fun activities provided by the Hayden and Coeur d’Alene public libraries. Transportation to and from camp is also provided.

At the end of each week, students get to take home and keep one book. At the end of the camp, each student gets a new backpack full of school supplies, provided by the Windermere Foundation and Midge Smock.

KIDS Camp kids get one-on-one reading time with the middle school and high school volunteers.

“We don’t want it to feel like they’re in school, but it’s so much fun with the middle schoolers and high schoolers with them,” said KIDS Camp Director Gretta Gissel. “It’s that one-on-one attention the kids get that is priceless.”

Becky Miller, a teacher at Canfield Middle School and the volunteer coordinator at KIDS Camp, more than tripled the number of volunteers at the camp this year.

Last year about 20 people volunteered, now there are 70 people spending their mornings helping younger kids to read.

“Some volunteer one day a week and we try to be flexible with vacations so they can have a summer break and volunteer,” Miller said. “These guys are phenomenal but they’re not reading teachers so we just focused on six simple decoding strategies.”

The volunteers went through a quick one-hour training session to give them teaching tools to help the little ones overcome some reading barriers. Not only are they mentors, but they have become role models and idols, too.

“It’s fun, the kids look up to you like you’re a hero,” said Owen Smith, a second-year volunteer from Canfield Middle School. “It was only the second time I’ve been with this group and already this kid wanted to walk down the hall holding my hand.”

Smith said he likes volunteering at KIDS Camp because of the relationships he gets to build with the kids. He doesn’t mind spending part of his summer vacation at school — in fact, when he has to miss the first part of camp every now and again for soccer practice, he actually misses it.

After each reading session, the kids and their mentors play a variety of comprehension games, like tic-tac-toe and cootie-catchers.

“We try to make it fun and game-like so they don’t really know that they’re reading, but they’re practicing reading,” Miller said.

KIDS Camp is planning on growing next summer. The goal is to have the camp run in two different locations, serving 50 students each. The camp also hopes to expand the number of students it can serve.

Right now, only second- and third-graders attend KIDS Camp, but Gissel would like to see kindergartners through fourth-graders attend.

Being at a proficient reading level in fourth grade is very important because that’s when students transition from learning reading as a skill to using reading as a tool to acquire information.

“We serve kids that aren’t reading well because reading is such a fundamental part of everything we do,” said Gissel, camp director. “If you’re not strong in reading when you get into the fourth grade, you start failing.”

“Third grade really is the key year to make sure kids are up to grade level in reading,” Mayor Widmyer agreed. “If they’re not at grade-level, the success rate drops rapidly from then on.”

According to Gissel, there are about 600 students in the Coeur d’Alene School District, kindergarten through fourth grade, that would qualify to go to KIDS Camp. She said about 180 kids go into fourth grade who are not proficient in reading.

When asked why he thought reading was important, Brenden Lessor said it was to “get smarter and so you can know how to do things better.”

Marie Widmyer, wife of Coeur d'Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer, helps second-grader Miranda Hoover with pronouncing a word in a book Hoover is reading to Widmyer on Monday at the third annual KIDS Camp.


Maddie Hyland, 7, reads to Lauren Baldeck, 12, at the third-annual KIDS Camp on Monday at Fernan Elementary. The Camp offers elementary school students the opportunity to hone their reading, math and music skills during the summer months.


Micah Matlock, 8, reads out-loud to Sydney Larsen, 14, at the KIDS Camp on Monday at Fernan Elementary School. In addition to group activities, elementary school students receive one-on-one attention from middle and high school students and adult volunteers.

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