Boys given jump on literacy

FORT FRANCES—A group of 50 Grade 5 boys from across the district went camping this week. But besides exploring the wonders of nature, they also discovered the joys of reading and writing.
The Rainy River District School Board hosted a literacy camp at Sunny Cove on Monday and Tuesday to encourage boys to pursue literacy at an age when they generally start losing interest in reading.
“Provincial data from EQAO and research clearly shows boys are not where girls are,” said Ed Cain, the board’s junior literacy co-ordinator and one of the camp organizers.
EQAO tests for reading, writing, and math are administered in Grades 3 and 6. In both grades, girls tend to get higher scores in reading and writing than boys while they tend to score about the same in math.
The purpose of the literacy camp is to help bridge the gap between male and female scores in reading and writing.
“We thought it would be beneficial to try something like this,” Cain noted Monday morning while waiting for the first group of students to arrive. “We’re excited about it. The kids are excited about it.”
Since this was the pilot project, the board selected five schools to participate this year: Robert Moore, J.W. Walker, Donald Young, Riverview, and McCrosson-Tovell.
“Our intent is to engage and excite these kids to want to read,” Cain said.
Each student participated in two of six different literacy-based workshops: writing and story-telling, poetry, drama, photography, visual art, and music.
Local artists and professionals donated their time to run the workshops, including Joe McLellan, Al Hunter, Cathy Richards, Bill Morgenstern, and Cher Pruys.
Jack McMaster, director of education for the local public school board, gave the opening address to the boys Monday morning, and talked about his own journey in literacy.
He cited “Great Days in Canadian Sport” by Henry Roxborough as an important book in his youth.
“It’s a book that was important to me when I was just a little older than you guys are now,” he remarked. “It really stuck with me. It really got me reading.”
The book is a series of short pieces, each about the accomplishments of a famed Canadian athlete. The short stories make for an easier and less intimidating read than a full-length novel, McMaster noted.
He even encouraged the boys to look at reading itself as a sport. “The best way to get better . . . is to practise,” he said.
Reading doesn’t have to be limited to fiction, McMaster added. Texts such as instruction manuals, books on mechanics, or even the latest edition of “AutoTrader” are all legitimate reading experiences.
“Take a half an hour every day to practise your reading because it’ll make a big difference in how you do in school, and where you head in life,” he stressed.
Following McMaster’s speech, the kids made T-shirts for themselves to commemorate the camp.
The theme of the camp was “Survivor,” with the students being divided into groups to take on various challenges over the two days.
After lunch, they attended their first workshop.
Cathy Richards, who ran the drama workshop, brought her group outside to present stories using frozen tableaux. Cher Pruys’ group of artists painted pictures of float planes, trucks, and other scenes.
Inside the main building at Sunny Cove, Joe McLellan’s group wrote stories.
Ben George, a student at J. W. Walker, said his story was about an old man who finds hidden treasure. Tanner Gill wrote about a man who steals children’s toys while Jonah Cawston wrote about his family.
All three said they had enjoyed their afternoon of writing.
Following the workshops, the boys enjoyed some recreation time, playing volleyball and swimming. After supper, there was time set aside for reading, followed by a musical surprise and songs around the campfire.
The boys rose yesterday morning for breakfast and their second workshop, followed by an opportunity for them to share what they had learned with the whole group.
Board staff and parent volunteers contributed their time to help make the event a success, Cain said.
And the lessons of the literacy camp won’t soon be forgotten, he added. “This camp isn’t finished when they leave here,” Cain explained.
Students have been put into small, inter-school groups, and will be expected to work on several projects together over the course of the year.
The groups will stay in touch through e-mails, phone calls, and even teleconferencing, Cain noted, helping to further put their literacy skills to use.
(Fort Frances Times)