Church receives literacy grant


Staff Writer

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Red Oak United Methodist Church is just one of 12 rural congregations in the state to be selected to receive a grant from the Duke Endowment to host a summer literacy program.

The church has been holding fundraisers and using donations to support a summer reading initiative for the past four summers, but this grant will allow program directors to expand the program significantly in several ways. The $129,000 grant will cover $43,000 of expenses for the initiative for each of the next three summers.

“High-quality summer reading and learning programs can prevent the “summer slide” — and even give students a boost,” said the Rev. David Joyner, pastor of Red Oak United Methodist Church. “It’s exciting for our congregation to be able to offer this program and help make a difference in a child’s life.”

In the past, the summer reading program has been a half-day program operating on Mondays through Thursdays for a three-week period. Using volunteers to run the program and provide reading instruction, the summer reading camp usually has served about 12 students in the past.

With the new grant, the church will be able to serve about 24 students. This year’s summer reading program will be offered as a full-day program running Monday through Friday for six weeks. Workshops for parents also will be provided each week. 

After discussing the most urgent needs in the community for an independent summer reading program with officials from Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, program directors said this year’s summer camp program will target rising first-graders for reading instruction. Three hours of reading instruction will be offered each morning and three hours of enrichment activities will be provided each afternoon. Two meals also will be served each day.

“The grant money will also allow us to hire trained teachers to instruct students this year,” Joyner said.

The grant funds will be added to other fundraising efforts for the summer reading program. The biggest of these is the Lucy McKeel 5K 4 Kids Run, which is usually held in the fall. This year, however, the event will be held on the Saturday following Thanksgiving so that it correlates with the town of Red Oak Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.

The Charlotte-based Duke Endowment is funding this effort and 11 others like it across the state to try to improve reading outcomes for students. Research shows that if students aren’t learning during the summer, they can lose ground academically. Consequences can be cumulative and long-lasting — and the gap is often harder to close once it opens, according to a news release from the endowment.

This effort began in 2012 when the Duke Endowment launched an effort to help rural churches provide a multi-faceted summer-learning intervention to improve literacy among elementary school students in their communities and keep young minds engaged. With promising results from a pilot, the endowment launched an evaluation process and began expanding the program.

Long-term plans include conducting a rigorous impact evaluation by 2021 and potentially replicating and scaling the model to help struggling readers in rural areas across the state, the release said. 

“We know from an external evaluation that this summer literacy model has helped students improve their reading accuracy, speed and comprehension,” said Kristen Richardson-Frick, associate director of the Endowment’s Rural Church program area. “Just as exciting is the fact that students reported positive changes in their reading behaviors and attitudes. We’re pleased to support churches that want to embrace this opportunity to meet a critical need in their communities.”