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Literacy camps in Eeyou Istchee are a continuing success

BY Amy German Sep 27, 2019

Literacy camps have become a summertime staple throughout Eeyou Istchee – keeping the minds and bodies of Cree youth active and in shape during the long school break.

After finishing their seventh summer of reading camps in all nine Cree communities, Mélanie Valcin, Frontier College’s Regional Director for Quebec, Nunavut and Atlantic Canada, reflects on yet another stellar season when it comes to maintaining and improving literacy.

The camps, set up by the Cree School Board in partnership with Frontier College, are geared at preventing the loss of literacy skills throughout the summer months by instilling a joy of reading books in elementary school children.

Valcin said Frontier has enjoyed the “immense privilege” of working with the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. Over the years the program has reached many children and contributed to their academic success. This summer, the camps reached 557 children to help them with their literacy and numeracy skills.

“We now know that the children in Eeyou Istchee are big readers. This summer they read close to 3,000 books in total; 2,982 were read either by children or read by counselors to children. This gives us an average of about 45 minutes of reading per day per child,” said Valcin.

According to the research on summer reading and learning loss, Valcin said that for children to best maintain their skills they need to read about five books during the summer break. Turns out that Cree children do better; on average, each child in Eeyou Istchee reads about six books over the summer.

“They should be very proud,” said Valcin. “We certainly are.”

On top of that, this year’s community participation was up and having that kind of cultural input from locals was something that added to the camp experience, making them more engaging for kids.

“We had 37 guest speakers. There were 37 people across the nine communities who said, ‘I will come in and speak, read, cook or do a traditional activity.’ They went out of their way to make the camp more relevant and interesting for the children,” explained Valcin.

And, as the camps have become more enmeshed in each community, more children are beginning to blossom academically. Seven years on and some early participants are now high-school graduates. Valcin said that Frontier’s research points to the effectiveness of these programs and that is why the Cree School Board keeps asking them back.

While they always survey the parents, children, camp counselors and the teachers to understand the impact of the project, Valcin said this year they surveyed the parents of children who were long-term users of the literacy camp.

“Their feedback was really positive; 98% of these parents said the camp helped their child enjoy reading more and 92% said their child did better in school,” said Valcin.

The literacy camps also serve as a source of employment for locals, which means that Cree is spoken and celebrated more frequently. Valcin said over half of the staff in each camp are from Eeyou Istchee and hiring locally has always been a goal.

While the camps try to buy as many Cree books as possible, they also acquire many books in English and French, depending on the linguistic demand in the community.

Beside reading Cree books, local camp counselors conduct their storytelling and activities in Cree. By employing so many Cree speakers, the camps have the capacity for this to happen.

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Amy German has worked in the magazine industry since 2001 and has her own personal blog. She is pretty much never without something to say and is always looking for a story.