‘A piece of the puzzle’ – SMEC’s Reading Camp benefits students and teachers

Published 7:12 am Tuesday, July 24, 2018

LYLE—While students have fun learning in the summer, teachers are also getting a huge benefit by learning right along with them.

On Monday afternoon, around 80 kids from area school districts were taking part of the Southern Minnesota Education Consortium (SMEC) Reading Camp. This was a two-week summer camp where students can get some extra attention in reading and prepare for school in the fall.

“This camp fills in a need to help parents and kids,” said SMEC Special Education Coordinator Denise Kennedy. “This is an opportunity for us to step up.”

“This camp fills in a need to help parents and kids. This is an opportunity for us to step up.” – Denise Kennedy, SMEC Special Education Coordinator

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SMEC is a special education cooperative that’s made of seven districts: Alden-Conger, Southland, Glenville-Emmons, Grand Meadow, Kingsland, LeRoy-Ostrander and Lyle. 

Each district provides services for federal setting I and II students, and students with more severe needs attend programs within the cooperative.

“Everyone does their part,” Kennedy said of SMEC. “Every district has a piece of the puzzle.”

Some students learned with flashcards or arranging words that made certain sounds into visual displays, or some worked with dry-erase boards. However, there’s other things that made SMEC Reading Camp even more “campy” for students, like being able to make s’mores and tie-dye shirts, according to Kennedy.

This particular camp has been operating for four years, after the SMEC districts came together five years ago to discuss an initiative to provide training for educators, while at the same time, providing students who wouldn’t necessarily qualify for SMEC programs to get one-on-one help and help them prepare for classes. SMEC Reading Camp also provided students with free breakfast and lunch during the summer, and made sure they were also fed.

“We’ve been getting calls from parents, and even though their student doesn’t qualify for SMEC, we were thinking, ‘How can we include them?’” Kennedy explained. ‘“The majority wouldn’t have qualified, but this was an initiative by SMEC districts, and it’s been such a huge growth and was phenomenal for these kids.”

Differentiated Instruction

Around 20 teachers and paraprofessionals from SMEC member districts were also able to train themselves in different instructive techniques to apply to their classroom methods and then immediately apply them by working with the students in the Reading Camp.

Between 8 and 11:30 a.m., instructors would get strategies and resources that assisted them with instruction in the classrooms that would focus on specific aspects of teaching. This year was differentiated instruction, which is a philosophy for effective teaching that provides different students with varied avenues to learning.

For this summer, the camp was hosted at Lyle Public School—the first time for Lyle—and this year was focused on differentiated instruction with two Concordia University professors, Ann Kern and Sharon Meyerring, leading the training for SMEC districts’ educators and paraprofessionals.

Instead of sending educators and staff up to the Twin Cities for annual training and then returning to the start of the school year when they may not have had the chance to try their new methods or strategies, SMEC districts found success in bringing in professionals outside of the consortium for a couple weeks, and then directly apply what they learned within 30 minute increments by working with students in small groups.

A teacher applies techniques of differentiated learning through Southern Minnesota Education Consortium’s (SMEC) Reading Camp held at Lyle Public School on Monday. Hannah Yang/hannah.yang@austindailyherald.com

Usually, topics for the camp are determined by what teachers have brought to administrators from daily interactions with students inside the classroom, One year was focused on helping students with dyslexia.

“I’m really pleased with the good feedback and that teachers are learning about their profession,” Kennedy said. “Whether they’re veteran teachers, or brand new teachers just starting. It can be a little overwhelming to learn, but being a little overwhelmed can be a good thing.”

Joann Klingerman, a Southland second grade teacher, attended SMEC Reading Camp multiple times and felt the program was beneficial for herself as an educator, and for her students.

“It’s a great opportunity to refresh their memories and get them ready for the fall, and I highly recommend it,” Klingerman said. “They give us new ideas when we go into the school year. It keeps lessons fresh and interesting. Sometimes, teachers forget half of what they learned by the time fall starts. I learn from this, and everything is concrete in my mind.”