Summer vacation began weeks ago for children across the county. But for nearly two dozen Washougal students, sitting in a classroom is still the norm for eight hours a week.
The students are participating in a grant-funded summer literacy program offered by the Washougal School District. And on Thursday, the students had the opportunity to show off their reading skills to Washougal firefighters.
The students donned black plastic Washougal Fire Department helmets and gathered in groups with volunteer and career firefighters.
Firefighter Carly Shears read “The Lorax” to first-graders Spencer Nicholson and Riley Gardner. After finishing the Dr. Seuss book, the trio opened up “Olivia Loves the Circus,” and Shears encouraged the students to take turns reading, offering reassuring words to a hesitant Spencer.
“You know how you get better at reading?” she asked the boys. “You practice. It’s OK to make mistakes.”
The firefighters’ visit was just one small event in the six-week program. The district received a $3,800 grant to offer the literacy program to elementary-aged children. The program, “Feed Your Brain,” is funded by School’s Out Washington and runs in conjunction with the summer food service program.
Twenty Washougal students in grades kindergarten through fourth attend the two-hour program at Hathaway Elementary four days a week. Feed Your Brain will wrap up Aug. 5.
“We wanted the program to provide opportunities for students to maintain and advance their literacy during the summer and have engaging activities at no cost to the families,” Washougal Assistant Superintendent Rebecca Miner said.
The summer program focuses on developing and enhancing reading and writing skills. The students read and write books and participate in writing workshop activities. They also play reading and writing games on computers.
Spencer, who attends Hathaway, said he’s written two books about volcanoes this summer, one while attending the program, the other at home.
“I did very good,” the 6-year-old said. “All my creations are going to come to life soon.”
Hathaway third-grader Nate Nuss, 8, has also written a book during the program. And on Thursday, he read his work to firefighters.
“The firemen like ‘Army Ships,’” Nate said, referring to his story.
While several of the students said reading with the firefighters was good, they were more excited to check out the fire engine parked on the school’s lawn.
“This is awesome!” 7-year-old Jeremy Richards shouted as he inspected the engine’s chain saw and hose. After learning about the engine, the children had a chance to try on the jackets, boots, gloves, helmets and masks the firefighters wear.
“I got to try on a helmet,” 7-year-old Jamie Sams said. “It’s like a big one that covers your face.”
“I even learned something from them,” he added. “I learned four fire trucks can hold 20 people.”
Washougal Fire Chief Ron Schumacher said he wanted to show the students not only that reading is needed for careers but that it can also be fun.
“We know the importance of reading, and we thought we’d come out and share that message,” Schumacher said. “There’s nothing like picking up a good book and reading.”
The program has just reached the halfway point, and Miner said the students are already thriving.
“It’s been terrific so far,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of excitement and enthusiasm about literacy.”
Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or firstname.lastname@example.org.