Spanda, other new animals come alive at literacy camp


The hallways of Pilgrim High School were so quiet, you would never imagine 57 students filled the classrooms completing the final week of summer camp.

But, that is exactly what happened last week as students were hard at work on their final projects for the Providence College Graduate Literacy Clinic, a five-week program designed to benefit students looking to maintain their reading and writing skills, and Providence College students looking to further their education.

The instructors for the clinic are Providence College graduate students in the Master of Literacy program, and being an instructor for the clinic is part of their training to become literacy specialists. The graduate students in the program are required to participate in the clinic during the summer before their graduation.

The Providence College Literacy Camp in Warwick is free for Warwick students in grades three through 12. The number of students in the program is dependant on the amount of instructors who have signed up. This year, nine teachers signed on to teach in Warwick, and 57 students were selected to participate.

Susan Skawinski, an assistant professor of elementary and special education at PC, explained she chooses to keep class sizes around six per teacher.

“It’s my choice to keep it between five and seven,” explained Skawinski. “We want our students [at PC] to understand what it means to work as a reading and writing specialist.”

And that means being prepared to teach reading and writing across all grade levels. Although, Skawinski does assign one of her students to a specific grade because she believes they will do well with that age group, the future teachers will need to be prepared to work at any level in a school district after graduation.  

To reach the youngest age group, Providence College also hosts a literacy clinic in East Providence for kindergarten through second grade; there are six teachers at that clinic this summer.

“It’s nice because you can cater to a wide range of students,” said Kathy Desrosiers, coordinator for the Language Arts department of Warwick Schools.

Desrosiers distributes applications at the end of the school year but acceptance to the clinic is first-come, first-serve. Also, teachers can recommend students, who may be struggling with reading and writing, to the clinic, but Desrosiers says that is not a requirement.

“It’s really about preventing loss, as well as maintaining, as well as growing,” said Desrosiers. “Our goal for our students is that they add knowledge and add growth.”

The program, which has occurred for the past nine years, runs four days a week from 9 a.m. to noon. Each classroom worked on a thematic unit selected by the class during the first week. Once a theme was selected, the class would decide on a question or idea to research.

“We’re very committed to giving students choices,” said Skawinski, who organizes the camp each year. “They are keeping their skills sharp during the summer.”

Once the question or idea is developed, instructors walk their students through both the research process and writing process. As a result, students will write papers about their topic and create a final project. They also work on independent reading and writing assignments, as well as class reading assignments.

For example, one class of third graders was inspired to create their own animals after reading “Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles” by Julie Andrews Edwards, the story about an imaginary creature living in Whangdoodleland. The children decided they wanted to create their own animals and the imaginary land they would live it.

So the class researched animals, and then picked two to morph together into one new creature. Some created were a spanda (part panda, part leopard seal), a whagul (part whale, part seagull), an eagle-shark and a bolt (part giraffe, part whale with lightening powers). Each student not only wrote a short report on their creature, but they also designed the animal out of clay to present on the final day of class.

Marissa Bianco’s class of fourth and fifth graders took on a similar topic, but focused on reptiles. The class began researching reptiles in a variety of landscapes, but narrowed their focus to reptiles in Egypt.

“They are creating their own reptiles that would be able to exist in Egypt,” said Bianco, explaining that the students were going to create drawings of their new reptiles along with a report explaining why their animal would be able to survive in Egypt, what it would eat and other characteristics. Bianco explained that her students not only learned about reptiles, but about the landscape and habitat of Egypt.

“This whole thing kind of evolved as they were here,” said Skawinski.

Bianco’s classroom was also decorated with posters explaining different parts of speech or story writing techniques such as flashbacks, sound effects, action, transitions and more. 

The high school students in Meghan Hartford’s class took on a more serious topic. The three boys chose to create a mural to represent tragedy and terrorism in 2013. They focused on the War on Terror, Invisible Children, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Boston Marathon Bombings. Skawinski explained one of the boys came into the class and asked about something he had heard on the radio, causing the boys to ask more questions about these events.

The boys explained that they did research on the computer about the four topics, reading magazine articles, newspaper clippings and other online sources. They also had the opportunity to interview a man named Mr. White, who was at the Boston Marathon when the bombings occurred.

Once they had gathered enough information, they put together murals on the lockers outside of their classroom, featuring facts, pictures and even personal reactions.

“We did a picture of ourselves and wrote our reaction to the Boston Bombings,” said Jadin Genao, a freshman at Pilgrim High School.

“Meghan was very careful about what resources they saw,” said Skawinski, when asked about how the sensitive nature of the boy’s topic was handled. She said Hartford was able to teach the boys how to be responsible digital consumers and they are very excited about their project.

It seemed that all of the students were excited to put the finishing touches on their projects before the last day of camp last Friday. A number of students were out in the hallway setting up their displays or putting together displays in the classrooms, where they would deliver final presentations.

“Every class has planned a celebration. They will be presenting something,” said Skawinski.

Parents and family members, as well as Skawinski, Desrosiers and Pilgrim Principal Marie Cote were expected to attend the final presentations.

“Warwick is a great place to have a relationship,” said Skawinski, crediting the district and Desrosiers for their support of the clinic and their willingness to try new ideas in education.


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