FLORENCE, S.C. – A select group of Florence One Schools third-graders are spending their summer honing their reading skills in preparation for fourth grade and otherwise enjoying a summer camp experience.

"Summer reading camp is for those students not reading at or above grade level in the third grade," said Carrie Simmons, literacy coach at Savannah Grove Elementary School.

Savannah Grove is one of four elementary schools that are playing host to the camp this summer. Greenwood and Dewey L. Carter schools are sending their students to Savannah Grove. North Vista, Carver and McLaurin are also playing host to reading camps.

Those four schools are also the summer feeding sites in the district, so the campers get the summer camp experience and also get help with reading and breakfast and lunch to boot.

At Savannah Grove, when they walk in the door and before they get breakfast, campers have a book put into their hands so they have something to read to start their day, Simmons said.

"It's state initiative for students who have not scored where they need to have scored in South Carolina reading testing and with their grades throughout the year," Simmons said.

Reading level is a determining factor in whether students get promoted from third to fourth grade, she said.

At Savannah Grove, Simmons said, the emphasis is put on the summer camp aspect of the program and the fun the students will get to have as they work on their skills.

There are competitions, and the students will make books, she said.

Moore Farms Botanical Garden is going to do a presentation of "Pulp Non-Fiction" while teaching students about fruits and vegetables. Smoothies will follow that lesson.

Books-A-Million will bring animated characters in one day for another presentation.

The student have access to board games, manipulatives, learning stations, games and crafts.

"For them it’s fun, but we know it's enhancing their reading ability," Simmons said.

The summer camp is also closing the learning gap that many students experience during the summer she said.

The goal is to have the students reading at least at the fourth-grade level by the end of the summer, she said.

"One of the great things with summer reading camp is we get to work with those students independently and individually," Simmons said. "We can meet them right where they are."

And where they are is in classes of seven to eight students each with a teacher and classroom assistant – not to mention some administrators, the school's media specialist and the school nurse.

"Children are just like adults; they have their levels of pride," Simmons said. "Sometimes when we can't do something, we're not quick to say we can't. It's our job with children to find out what they're able to do."

They have one other, big, two-wheel incentive this year: two bicycles.

All students with perfect attendance will have their names entered into a drawing, and one boy and one girl will each win a bike, Simmons said.

The bikes were donated by Savannah Grove Elementary School Safety Patrol and The Beta Club.

"My dream goal is we could give a bicycle to every student who attends summer reading camp," Simmons said. "If there is somebody out there who wants to make a donation to Savannah Grove Elementary School, we have 24 students. We need 22 more bikes."

"These students are here, they're working hard and they're engaged. We'd love to be able to present them, at the end of summer reading camp, a bike for each one of them."

Digital Editor Matt Robertson is a veteran journalist who has fulfilled just about every role that a newspaper has and now serves as a key member of the Morning News' newsroom by maintaining SCNow.com and covering the occasional story and photo assignment.

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