United Way Worldwide: Camp iRock Empowers Young Readers

United Way Blog

Camp iRock Empowers Young Readers

Naette Lee

August 1 2023

Experts say the chance of succeeding in life increases with a quality education. Research suggests that a child is 90% likely to remain a poor reader at the end of the fourth grade if the child is a poor reader at the end of the first grade. Furthermore, one in six children who are not reading proficiently in the third grade does not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers. Around the world, millions of children lack the support they need to develop as readers, and many are severely limited by their early struggles with literacy.

Recognizing these challenges, United Way of Pickens County, the School District of Pickens County, the Pickens County YMCA, and the Call Me MiSTER program launched Camp iRock. The groundbreaking summer program has a profound impact, transforming struggling readers in grades K4-3rd into confident bookworms.

Students are invited to Camp iRock based on academic evaluations provided by their Reading Coaches, teachers, and guidance counselors. The 4-week program helps children improve their reading abilities in the context of summertime fun. It includes free Bus transportation, meals, swim lessons, field trips, character development and more. The unique curriculum is designed to help close the achievement gap and prevent these at-risk children from falling behind over the summer months.

Michelle Garcia, whose son attended Camp iRock says, “My son Charlie, was profoundly affected by the pandemic which caused him to repeat the 1st grade. He loves Camp iRock and especially loves the Call Me MiSTER interns because they are young and “cool”. Camp iRock is giving Charlie so much more confidence to enter 2nd grade ready to learn.”

Camp iRock began as a pilot program in 2015, initially serving 63 students in grades 1 through 3 from a single community. Its success was undeniable, prompting its expansion to two additional sites in 2016, welcoming children from all 14 elementary schools in Pickens County. It was a finalist for the Riley Institute's prestigious "What Works" award for exemplarily, replicable education programs.

A crucial part of Camp iRock's success is the involvement of Call Me MiSTER interns and YMCA counselors who support classrooms and engage the children during YMCA activities. Call Me MiSTER is a teacher recruitment and leadership program aimed at increasing the representation of diverse backgrounds, particularly African American and Latinx men, in elementary schools. Established at Clemson University in 2000, this program collaborates with historically black colleges in South Carolina. It provides students from underserved communities with mentoring, support, and the necessary tools to excel as teachers and role models.

Since 2015 Call Me MiSTER has enriched Camp iRock's mission to cultivate literacy skills among young readers. Its mission to include highly trained award-winning men from minoritized communities in South Carolina classrooms exemplifies values of collaboration, equity, and diversity. Together, United Way of Pickens County, Camp iRock, and Call Me MiSTER foster an environment where every child can thrive and reach their full potential.

Camp iRock showcases what can be achieved when individuals and organizations unite with a shared purpose. They have created a safe, engaging, and transformative space for struggling young readers through their collaboration. United, we can make a difference and create a better future in which every child has the opportunity to thrive.

Originally posted on the United Way Worldwide Blog here.