Camp iRock Expands to Include Students from all of Pickens County

Camp iRock is rocking all across Pickens County this year.

The innovative reading-improvement camp that started a year ago in one school has expanded to three schools, in Easley, Pickens and Liberty.

“Because of the amazing results that we saw long-term, not only in students’ academic achievement but also with behaviors and attitudes, everybody was on board and was excited about expanding and serving the entire county,” said Alida Gardiner, director of operations for the Pickens County YMCA.

Camp iRock is a collaboration between the YMCA, the United Way and the Pickens County School District that offers a combination of reading classes and fun summer camp activities to help students who are below grade level in reading as they head into the second, third and fourth grade.

Last year, the program served about 65 students at West End Elementary School in Easley. This year, about 180 students are taking part at West End, Pickens Elementary and Chastain Road Elementary.

Students are there from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, with mornings devoted to reading and afternoons to traditional summer-camp type activities. The program runs through July 29.

“This is not summer school,” said Julie Capaldi, president of the United Way of Pickens County. “This is camp, truly.”

The results were so promising last year that the state Department of Education chose Camp iRock as a model for the state in helping students who are behind to avoid losing their reading skills during summer and get on track toward getting caught up, Capaldi said.

The camp got a share of a $700,000 state grant for such programs, and received donations from several corporate and foundation sponsors, including Duke Energy, which contributed $25,000 this year, she said.

After last year’s session, tests showed that 84 percent of students experienced no summer learning loss, and they scored on average 3.6 points higher on their reading skills tests. Two points growth is average.

They also gained 8.6 points on the percentile scale in comparison to average students.

Eighty-five percent of parents reported that their child’s attitude toward learning improved, 69 percent said their child’s attitude toward reading improved and 94 percent said their child grew in terms of character values such as respect, responsibility and self-control, according to the United Way.

Parents gained from the program, too, Capaldi said. Many of them had bad memories of their own school experience and came away from last year’s camp with an improved attitude about school and helping their children with their schoolwork, she said.

“We’re really working not only with the child but with the whole family,” she said.

Parents are given books to read with their children at home as part of the effort.

The program comes at a time when the stakes are rising for young readers. Under the new Read to Succeed state law, which goes into effect in the 2017-18 school year, students who aren’t reading on grade level by third grade will have to repeat the grade.

The school district last year participated in Camp iRock but also ran its own summer reading programs, which didn’t have the outdoor activities offered by the YMCA, said Paige Holliday, Title 1 curriculum specialist at McKissick Elementary and director of the academic program for Camp iRock.

By getting a head start, before students reach third grade, organizers hope to be able to keep kids who struggle with reading from falling too far behind, she said.

This article was originally published June 7, 2016 in The Greenville News.