Literacy program aims to prevent ‘brain drain’ over break

By Bethany Knipp

Local primary students have been counteracting summer “brain drain” through a literacy program.

Manhattan kindergarten through third graders are enhancing their literacy skills during the break with AfterSchool KidzLit, put on locally by the Boys and Girls Club of Manhattan.

On Tuesday, a group of about 30 children gathered in the Lee Elementary School music room to read “The Relatives Came,” by Cynthia Rylant.

But first, they learned some vocabulary.

“OK, we’re going to run through our new ‘cool words,’” said Kayla Bryant, a KidzLit leader and student at Manhattan Christian College. “So our first one is ‘relative.’”

Bryant asked the group of young readers to repeat ‘relative’ three times before the group discussed what the word meant in the context of the book.

The “cool words” and story time are a part of a five-step process that encourages children to develop their reading skills, said Boys and Girls Club literacy coordinator Mandi Bunnell.

“We really want the goal for them to be to want to read and to increase curiosity about books, hoping that the literacy and comprehension will come with that,” Bunnell said to a KidzLit observation group that included USD 383 administrators and Kansas Rep. Tom Phillips.

The children learn the elements of one new book a week. They meet for an hour a day five days a week with a different activity every day to build reading motivation and comprehension.

USD 383 director of elementary education Lucas Shivers said the program is popular with children.

“Because of the interactive teaching styles, because of the book choice, because of the freedom to expand lots of different intelligences like electronic or art, it’s really multi-modal, which is what we’re after,” Shivers said. “It does such a great job of engaging kids with a passion, and that’s really a unique feature to this program - that it’s not the drill and kill, it’s more of the holistic balanced approach of really promoting literature in general.”

The KidzLit program is designed for out-of-school settings year round. In the spring, the program ran two program sites. During the summer, it’s running three sites: the Boys and Girls Club, and Lee and Theodore Roosevelt elementaries.

During the school year there will be five sites: Marlatt, Theodore Roosevelt, Bluemont, Lee elementary schools and the Boys and Girls Club on Fifth Street.

The programs at the elementary schools are open to students who attend them. Boys and Girls Club members who don’t attend those schools would go to the club’s location at 220 S. Fifth St. 

Shivers said because the program is after school, it balances nicely with more curriculum-based tools used during the school day.

“It’s so great to have that partnership in which we can expand so much farther than we have the time for,” Shivers said.

The KidzLit program started in January and aligns with the goals of a state literacy initiative called Kansas Reading Roadmap. That initiative’s goal is to achieve third grade reading proficiency.

“Research just shows that that’s the age you can predict high school graduation,” USD 383 elementary education director Lucas Shivers said. He said that’s the age where several academic predictions can be based.

“Third grade is where they really stop learning to read and are beginning to learn. Transition really happens there,” he said.

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