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Encouraging students to read a good book this summer

August 2020 – Getting kids to spend time reading during the summer is not easy - even during “normal times”. While many of our community partners have been innovative with programming during COVID-19, those offering summer programs, like the Tribal Chiefs Education Foundation (TCEF) and Frontier College, had to be particularly creative to engage students in the face of an ongoing pandemic.

“At Cenovus we are passionate about increasing literacy rates in Alberta’s youth because we know reading proficiency is an important predictor of school success. Students who read over the summer are less likely to lose ground academically and more likely to increase their reading level for the next school year. So, supporting summer literacy programs is especially important,” says Jessica Yarnell, Senior Community Programs Advisor. “TCEF and Frontier College are two fantastic examples of organizations that have made lemonade out of lemons and have found ways to reach their audience and deliver on their mandates, while adhering to provincial health guidelines.”

The TCEF began to change the plans for their Cenovus Summer Reading Project back in April. In the past, the program gave students in six First Nation communities an opportunity on the last day of school to select books to take home and read over the summer holidays. This year, with school cancelled in March, they quickly mobilized resources to have books sorted and boxed by household - with every K-3 student receiving 10 books and every Grade 4-12 student receiving 6 books. As a bonus, their Numeracy, Language and Culture Coordinators were able to add resources to these boxes as well for some additional content that may have been missed during a spring of “learn from home”. Boxes were delivered to households the last two weeks of June, so students could start their summer reading project right on time.

Over the last six years, Frontier College has partnered with Indigenous communities in Alberta to offer free, fun, community-based summer literacy camps for children aged 5-12. However, with the pandemic shutting down most activities during the spring, Frontier College realized that they would likely not be running their Summer Literacy Camps as usual this year and began working on new ways to support communities. They worked closely with their community partners and determined the best option to provide literacy support over the summer was to offer a combination of distance learning and distribute activity boxes to families involved in the program. To date, they have delivered a total of 250 activity boxes to households in Janvier, Chipewyan Prairie, Chard Metis, Anzac and Conklin.

“I continue to be amazed at how flexible our community partners have been in changing their programming in the face of this pandemic,” says Yarnell. “Through their innovation and quick thinking, TCEF and Frontier College are ensuring the students in their communities will return to school with better reading skills than when they left in March.”