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Books are big at summer reading program

August 03, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

RANSON, W.Va. - It's summer. Time to close up the school books and enjoy some carefree days and maybe a beach trip or two.

Except at Ranson Elementary School, where the lights are still on and the focus turns to reading, pronunciation and fluency skills.

For more than 10 years, Ranson Elementary School has been the site of a reading enrichment program in which students use the summer hours to tackle a mix of reading, art and nutritional offerings.

The program, referred to as Energy Express, was started because teachers discovered that it was taking some students up to two months to regain some of their academic skills after having the summer off, said Kelli O'Dell, Energy Express site coordinator.

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That can be the case if children do not receive much academic stimulation during the summer break, O'Dell said.

Energy Express begins at Ranson Elementary at 8:30 a.m. with a breakfast, which is followed by a "welcoming activity," like a coordination game to warm up the brains for learning, O'Dell said.

In the reading segment, students read to volunteers for 15 minutes at a time. Requiring the students to read aloud increases their confidence, their level of fluency and strengthens their pronunciation skills, O'Dell said.

Organizers keep the reading segments fresh by having guests like local state lawmakers come to the school to participate in the reading programs with students, O'Dell said.

Other activities are blended in, like art. Students make their artful creations and then - in keeping with the words theme - write about their works, O'Dell said.

Reading is the focus in Energy Express because "reading is the foundation of everything we do" in education, O'Dell said.

O'Dell said 32 children ranging in ages from 5 to 11 participated in this year's Energy Express, which started June 26 and runs until Friday.

On Wednesday, classrooms bustled with activity, and at lunchtime, students gathered in the cafeteria for the second meal offered to them before being released for the day.

O'Dell said meals are a big part of Energy Express because school officials were discovering that some students were not getting enough nutrition during the summer and were sometimes losing up to 15 pounds.

"You need nutrition for the brain," said O'Dell, adding that a meal for some kids is chicken nuggets in front of the TV.

Some of the students interviewed Wednesday had a hard time deciding whether they would rather be reading or doing something else, while others embraced the excitement they discovered through Energy Express.

Logan Shook, 9, of Ranson, said he likes Energy Express because it is fun to be in it with his friends. Classmate Logan Payne said he likes Energy Express because "it's not like real school," where there are grades and homework to worry about.

"This is pretty fun," said Walter Tomlin II, 8, of Ranson.

The students who participated in this year's Energy Express were recommended by their classroom teachers at Ranson Elementary School, organizers said.

Besides O'Dell, the program is led by professionals like John Glymph, who has been teaching seventh- and eighth-grade English and reading at Charles Town Middle School.

"He has been a real strength to our staff," O'Dell said.

Energy Express, funded primarily through AmeriCorps, has been offered at other schools in past summers, although construction projects undertaken during the warm months sometimes prevent it, O'Dell said.

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