Summer Reading Academy Focuses on Reading, Writing, Innovation and Inquiry

Now in its sixth year, the School Of Education (SOE) Reading Academy program has been revamped, and the results are a hit. Designed to enhance students' reading and writing skills while introducing them to innovation through technology and inquiry, the three-week program focuses on students in second through eighth grade.

“We want students to use the reading and writing strategies they are learning for authentic purposes,” says Penny Silvers, program director and professor in the School of Education. “Our goal is to help children become active, confident learners who know that they can use their literacy skills to make a difference in the world.”

This summer, 40 students from partner schools including the Chicago Jesuit Academy in Austin, KIPP Ascend Middle School in North Lawndale and Chicago International Charter School (CICS) West Belden in Belmont-Cragin were accepted into the program. A grant from the Kaplan Foundation covered the cost of tuition for the KIPP students. Instruction is provided by 23 teacher candidates who are working to complete their reading teacher endorsement or reading specialist certifications. The teachers include Dominican graduate students, undergraduate students and returning program directors or specialists.

“It’s helpful to have the opportunity to work one-on-one with the students,” says Kim Rigas, an SOE graduate student. “We see firsthand how much they progress over a short period of time.”

“I’m lucky I get to spend time and work with teachers who really help me,” says eighth grader Kameron McBroom.

Part of the revamp of the Academy was the addition of an innovation lab to bolster the program's curriculum. The lab is funded through a technology grant from the Beck Foundation, focusing on Catholic school teachers in the Chicagoland area. The grant is introducing teachers to technology and allowing students to work on projects using green screens, IMovie software and several presentation applications.

“It’s a great way to network,” says Melanie Petzold, a teacher at St. Francis Borgia. “We are introduced to the latest techniques and technology, and we bring that knowledge back to our schools. The best part is seeing the kids use all of these technologies on their own.”

“We want students to have hands-on experience with different types of technology,” says Courtney Kilian, head of the innovation lab. “Our goal is for these skills to carry through and help them solve real life problems.” Returning students are encouraged to serve as mentors for those participating for the first time.

LaZerick Strong is an eighth grader from CJA and is serving this summer as a technology assistant. “I can help kids who don’t know how to edit the videos they record and I am looking forward to learning how to use the green screen,” he says.

The Reading Academy culminates with a shopping opportunity, made possible through the Kaplan Foundation. Each student will receive a $50 gift card to use at a Barnes & Noble bookstore. Students and teachers will go together on July 27 to the downtown bookstore to select books that they have explored or shown interest in during the Academy. On July 29, students will present their inquiry projects using the technology skills they have learned during their time in the program. Parents, teachers and members of the Dominican community are invited to attend.

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