First Nation literacy camps coordinated by Frontier College successful in preparing kids for school


Summer Camps Help Aboriginal Kids Find Fun in Reading

By Leigh Anne Williams | Aug 14, 2014

Aboriginal children in remote communities in Canada's northern regions are getting some extra nutrition for both their minds and bodies at literacy camps this summer with help from Kids Can Press and TD Bank Group.

Toronto-based Frontier College has been running the summer literacy camps since 2005, and this year, TD has increased its sponsorship by donating an additional C$100,000 to provide healthy snacks or lunches for the children in the program.

Frontier's director of programs Sarah Thompson told PW that the bank's support has made possible to reach more communities. Last year, there were camps in more than 80 communities, 30 of those accessible only by air. This year, there was also a new pilot camp for the Inuit community of Cape Dorset in Nunavut. The additional funds to enhance the nutrition component of the program are especially important because many of the communities are economically struggling. Thompson noted that the cost of food, which has to be transported in, is much higher than it is in the south. "The nutrition component of it is invaluable because I don't think you can have a healthy learning program without also having a healthy nutrition component to go along with it," she said.

According to a 2013 report published by Frontier, 58,000 children ages five to 15 attended the camps in 2013. They read more than 48,000 books and received about 27,000 books to take home and keep.

KidsCan and its parent corporation, Corus Entertainment, have also donated books and materials from the Franklin the Turtle series by Paulette Bourgeois, illustrated by Brenda Clark. That contribution, Thompson said, enhances "the program by providing better materials for the kids and more variety of materials for the kids." Corus is also raising awareness of the camps with public service announcements on its radio, television and online channels.

"The camps are run as day camps within the communities themselves, sometimes in existing buildings such as a school, but many of the activities, including scavenger hunts, tournaments and picnics are outdoors. "It's very much a play-oriented camp model," said Thompson. "There's always a certain amount of reading that goes on every day, but a lot of it is literacy and numeracy-based games. It's not 'schooly' at all."

The program also incorporates aboriginal culture with community members and elders sharing stories and knowledge about traditional activities such as sweat lodge or salmon ceremonies. The children do beadwork, bake bannock and go out on to the land to pick sweetgrass and berries. In Iskut, B.C., the entire community goes out onto the land during the summer, and so the reading camp was set up alongside the community's camp.

Campers show off their Read Along with Franklin activities.

Frontier reports positive effects for the kids who attend. According to its 2013 report, 98% of parents surveyed said their child was more prepared for school, 80% of teachers noted stronger social skills, and 77% of teachers said camp strengthened their students' school readiness.

"The availability of literacy programs and initiatives can often be taken for granted. However, they are not always accessible to everyone," said Frank McKenna, deputy chair of TD, in a statement announcing the increase in the bank's financial support of the program. "TD is pleased to continue supporting Frontier College in their efforts to reach out to aboriginal youth in communities across Canada, to encourage learning and a love of reading."

Kids Can president Lisa Lyons Johnston told PW that "KCP is delighted to be working alongside our Corus colleagues in partnership with literacy champions TD Bank and Frontier College. The camps have sent us photos and videos of beaming children with their Franklin books and materials, so we've seen first-hand the impact of this innovative initiative, which is incredibly gratifying."