HAVERHILL — No summer slide here!
With Haverhill Public Schools students preparing to head back to classrooms in person in the fall following a lengthy remote learning stint, several community groups and nonprofits are helping prepare children for their return with an extra learning boost over the summer months.
Haverhill Promise, the YMCA, Haverhill Public Schools and the Haverhill Public Library are among the groups encouraging literacy, along with social-emotional skills.
“Children are just itching for social interaction with their peers,” Haverhill Promise Campaign Director Jenny Arndt said.
Arndt’s group aims to provide a fun, educational way to make that happen through its Literacy Lunches each Friday at three locations.
“Many kids did not go to preschool or kindergarten because of COVID, so we anticipate there will be kids going into those grades with very little school experience,” Arndt said. “We’re putting on these lunches in an effort to get books into the hands of families, but also helping the littlest ones — preschool and first grade — get back into the habit of sitting and listening and being around friends."
The lunches are held Fridays at noon at Consentino Middle School at 685 Washington St., Hunking School at 480 S. Main St., and the Haverhill YMCA at 81 Winter St. They allow children a chance to socialize outdoors while enjoying lunch and a story, Arndt said.
“All families get to take home a copy of the book read that day,” Arndt explained, adding that funding for books was provided through a grant from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“We’re also trying to supply activities related to the book, so that families can go home and do them together to promote more reading at home,” she added.
Partners like Community Action’s Family and Community Connection and Creative Haverhill pitch in to read stories and host craft sessions.
Sessions that are held at the YMCA include books that are swim-themed in order to promote water safety, and all those who attend — who do not need to be members of the club — are able to use the pool after storytime.
Tracy Fuller, the Northshore YMCA’s regional executive director, said her agency looks forward to helping Haverhill’s students and youngest readers advance their literacy goals each summer.
The YMCA is in its ninth year conducting the skills improvement program, Y Summer Literacy Academy, Fuller said.
Free of charge, the program this year started July 6 and hosts students at Haverhill High School in the mornings for breakfast, literacy games and other reading-related activities with teachers from Hill for Literacy and Haverhill Public Schools before children have lunch and head to the Y’s Camp Tricklin’ Falls in East Kingston, New Hampshire, for an afternoon of fun.
Parents are fully involved with every step of the program, Fuller said, and must commit to their children being present at 80% of the sessions.
“We have campers ready to learn,” Fuller said. “There’s just such positive buzz and energy. Every child is engaged, which is fantastic.”
When children are at camp, including all day on Fridays, they are able to enjoy traditional activities like swimming, archery, field games and boating, Fuller said.
“This is the space that Y leans in on: We’re focused on youth development and supporting the needs of the community,” Fuller said. “We know with pandemic recovery that there’s going to be a need for children to have those academic supports so they don’t experience any additional summer slide or achievement gap."
Haverhill mom Shelby Trocki frequents Haverhill Promise events and is sending her two daughters, Kali, 7, and Kendall, 8, to the YMCA Summer Literacy Academy before they go into second and third grade.
“I am very thankful my children have this opportunity,” Trocki said. “Keeping their literacy skills over the summer will keep them above grade level that they are at now. Having the YMCA included is an added bonus so my kids can have access to a summer camp with other kids and exposure to activities they wouldn’t normally have.”
Families who are vacationing this summer are able to borrow books from the Haverhill Public Library without having to pay a late fee on almost all items.
According to Head of Youth Services Chance Joyner, the Board of Trustees voted to do away with fees starting July 1 in order to promote equitable access for all.
“Having late fees can not only prevent someone from checking out books but also using our other services. It can be very limiting,” Joyner said. “Fees can add up quickly and we don’t want people to be locked out of services because they were a week late returning a book or a DVD.”
Late fees still apply to tech items such as laptops, hotspots, and e-readers, while everything else is now fine-free. Lost item charges still apply.
The library is also hosting a reading challenge as part of its summer learning program, Joyner said.
Using an app called Beanstack — accessible on a web browser or mobile phone — children, teens and adults can track reading and complete other literacy-based challenges that can be traded for points, according to Joyner. Points can be traded for raffle prizes and gift certificates to ice cream and pizza shops, with the grand prizes being a Kindle and an American Girl doll.
The challenge runs until Aug. 16 and reading time can be retroactively added, Joyner said.