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Promoting Summer Learning During COVID-19
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EASTON, Pa. (WLVT) - Summers at the Boys & Girls Club of Easton are typically busy, filled with kids at camp. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the organization to limit capacity, but that hasn’t stopped kids from having fun.

They still spend time playing -- grabbing puppets, watering the garden, and working on arts and crafts. They're also working on literacy. Last year, 94 percent of kids in summer camp were reading at grade level, according to program director Monica Bowles.

"We have staff members here that are teachers -- myself included," she said. "So, we have that good positive mentorship with the kids, just encouraging academics, enrichment throughout the summer months, so that there's no summer learning loss."

It's the middle of national summer learning week, as local groups make sure children don’t lose skills before starting a new school year. United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley says it takes a team to be successful.

"Yes, summer learning is really important, but we really want families to be in it together," said Akshara Vivekananthanand, United Way's assistant director of early childhood and summer learning, "and I think that's what we're seeing all around the country, especially in terms of the messaging and mission around national summer learning week and beyond."

Kids at the club Wednesday took home special kits filled with learning materials and things to play with: puzzles, crayons, jump ropes, and, of course, books.

"[It's] just to keep kids and families interactive and busy over the summer and to keep reading front and center," said Angela Zanelli, campaign director of Lehigh Valley Reads, an initiative powered by United Way and Lehigh Valley Public Media.

"Having these kits, I think we're going to be a value to the families," Bowles added. "Parents [who] are still working from home are going to be able to use them with their kids, and for those who aren't, it gives them something new to do over the summer."

The goal is to hand out more than 15,000 of the kits over the summer. United Way prepared 70 to distribute at Wednesday's giveaway. It’s one way to reach students and their families at a time when the future is uncertain.

"No one knows what's going to happen when kids step foot in the classroom in the fall -- if they step foot in the classroom," Zanelli said. "So, we're doing all that we can to ensure that children have books in the home, that they have activities and things to keep them busy, that parents have resources that they need and able to get them through the summer -- and then, also into the fall, should we go into lockdown or quarantine again."

Zanelli said a pillar of third-grade reading is summer learning. The campaign's goal is to have all Lehigh Valley third-grade students reading at grade level by the year 2025. Right now, that number is around 65 percent, and it’s unclear what impact the pandemic will have.

"We're not giving up. We are just thinking outside the box," Zanelli said, "and we're going to try even harder."

"Do what you can. Read those few minutes every day and just take part in other activities that really boosts a child's learning possibilities," Vivekananthanand added.

Click HERE to access more summer learning resources.

PBS39 News Reports

SUMMER LEARNING WEEK AT BOYS & GIRLS CLUB

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It's National Summer Learning Week.