By Ruben Lowman
Camp United, the only summer program in Horry County that focuses on elementary school students and their abilities in core subjects, will be returning to schools in the area for the second summer in a row this year.
The camp, which is a program offered by United Way of Horry County in conjunction with local schools, is a continuation of learning for students already enrolled in Horry County Schools’ (HCS) Pre-K program that are performing below readiness levels and are considered most at-risk. There is no cost to attend the camp and transportation, breakfast and lunch, and all supplies and books are provided for free. Funding for the camp is supported by a gift from Tidelands Health and grants from Horry Electric Cooperative and the North Myrtle Beach Chamber Foundation.
HCS’ Annual Report Card demonstrated that over half of first grade students in the county are not on track for success in English language arts at second grade. The effects COVID-19 has had on kindergarten readiness is also staggering, with only one in four students prepared to enter kindergarten, according to the report card. And the numbers are even worse in the lower-income schools. The camp is a step in the right direction to combating this growing problem.
Camp United serves Daisy, Green Sea and Loris Elementary, as well as Myrtle Beach Early Education. These four schools have some of the highest rates of poverty and the lowest levels of kindergarten readiness in the county. It is the only program HCS offers that focuses specifically on these students, their age group and their abilities in reading, writing and math. Camp United can help close this gap in inequitable services and opportunities for these students.
The program was introduced last year first to Loris Elementary School students only. It was held for four weeks, with 37 first and second-graders attending. The curriculum is “Big Day for PreK”, which is HCS-approved and taught by county schoolteachers. Children are selected using their DIBELS (Dynamic Indicator of Basic Early Literacy Skills) and Math MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) assessments as baseline indicators.
Last year, 88 percent of all students in Camp United made gains in math, as well as in words read correctly, and 80 percent of second graders had gains in oral reading fluency. Additionally, the camp’s average student math growth went up by 21 percentile points in just four weeks.
Lora Tyler, LES Principal, said she was thankful for the program last year and the remarkable impact it made on students at her school.
“Camp United was an amazing experience for the students and teachers!” Tyler said. “We are very grateful to United Way and all the donors who contributed to the camp’s success! We were able to see academic and social growth in our students.”
Education experts have said that as kindergarten marks the start of a child’s formal education, their first school experiences can influence the way he or she relates to others for the rest of their life. Success or failure at this stage can affect their well-being, self-esteem and motivation.
A lack of kindergarten readiness can also lead to children repeating grades. Research has shown that classroom engagement at this age is a predictor of several important factors — better grades, lower dropout risk, better school connection, lower risk of substance use and more involvement in physical activity.
On average, students lose any quarter of the prior year’s learning gains during summer break. Younger children are the most vulnerable for learning loss because of their crucial state of development, and children from low-income families are also disproportionately affected by the summer slide in ways that can affect them years into their education.
Class sizes are limited to just 15 students at Camp United in order to keep classrooms small and promote individualized education. It also provides opportunities for teachers to incorporate social and emotional structures and strategies that can often impede academic success in struggling learners. The “Big Day for PreK” curricula offers learning experiences and materials that support children’s social and emotional, academic and physical development.
“I really enjoyed Camp United’s instructional materials,” said Jennifer Thrift, LES Kindergarten Teacher. “It combined reading strategies and writing in a way that allowed our students to shine. Also having a smaller group of students allowed for much more concentrated small group time.”
Camp United will be held Monday through Thursday and run for six weeks this summer from June 9 – July 13. Classes will begin at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. For more information about the camp, visit www.unitedwayhorry.org.