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Elon's Village Project expands with summer camp

Sixty children taking part in a university program that helps struggling readers will spend the next two weeks on campus with activities aimed at strengthening their writing and creative expression.

Students in the 2014 Village Project Summer Camp take part in an art course led by Burlington artist Laine Francis and Professor Glenda Crawford.

Elon University’s “Village Project” welcomed dozens of children to campus Monday morning for the first day of a camp that keeps young students engaged with reading and writing at a time of summer when it would be easy to forget what they learned the previous school year.

The 2014 Village Project Summer Camp debuted in Lindner Hall with reading, art, poetry, music, dance, writing and exercise on the agenda for the next two weeks. The day camp is the newest addition to the “It Takes a Village” Project, which originated from the university’s School of Education in 2008 and today is part of Elon’s Center for Access and Success.

The camp is free to families and is supported by a $10,000 gift from the Wells Fargo Foundation.

Sixteen educators - Elon University faculty and staff, as well as teachers from nearby schools - along with two student volunteers help lead the classes, which from run from 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. The camp welcomes children from the second through seventh grades, though all participants this summer were required to have been a part of previous Village programs.

“We know where they are in terms of need and we know where they are in terms of strengths,” said Associate Professor Jean Rattigan-Rohr, founder of the Village Project and director of the Center for Access and Success. “We want to ensure that we do everything we can so that when schools starts this fall, our students haven’t moved backward.”

Burlington artist Laine Francis helped young children decorate paper fish and make "coral reef" as part of a July 7 art activity with the 2014 Village Project Summer Camp.

The "It Takes a Village" Project uses a collaborative approach to help children in the community who are struggling to read. During the fall and spring semesters, children and Elon University students majoring in education are paired for weekly tutoring sessions at May Memorial Library in downtown Burlington.

While in an environment rich with available resources, the preservice teachers assess the individual reading challenges of the children and show their parents different techniques they can use at home to help improve reading skills. The program has since been modeled on college campuses elsewhere in North Carolina and Oregon. It has drawn interest and support from several philanthropic foundations, including the Switzerland-based Oak Foundation, which in 2010 made a gift of more than $200,000 to support the project.

The "Village" has also expanded in recent years with the addition of science and music components that broaden children's ability to think critically and creatively about their worlds.

Parents raved about the camp and complimented Rohr on building a program that generates their children’s excitement to learn. “With Dr. Rohr and her program, I’ve seen so much growth in my two kids,” said Erica Johnson, whose son Izayiah and daughter Nemiah both attend the summer camp. “When I saw this opportunity I wanted them to be a part of it.”

Johnson and another parent, Alma McNeal, whose son Jacob is in the same grade as Izayiah, point to other benefits of the Village Project’s multifaceted approach. It gives parents an opportunity to meet each other and learn from each other; it develops their children’s self-confidence; and they said it “opens doors” to new ideas and even the notion of one day going to college.

Art, music, poetry, dance, reading and writing are all part of the 2014 camp, which helps local children strengthen their creative expressions.

“A lot of kids never hear about college,” Johnson said, “and that’s something Dr. Rohr does so well. She lets them know about it.”

For teachers, lessons in art and music and dance offer cultural enrichment to students that isn't always available during the normal school year. Professor Glenda Crawford and Burlington artist Laine Francis guided a dozen children Monday afternoon in mixing paints and creating “fish” and “coral reefs” following a lesson about emerging threats to some of the world’s most beautiful aquatic life.

“This gives them extra stimulation they may not have received after school ends and it brings resources into their hands to both learn and create,” Crawford said. “And it teaches them that art is about individual expression. Anything they do is beautiful because it comes from them.”

Eric Townsend,
7/7/2014 3:25 PM