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Rural Matters

Aug 11, 2020

In this final episode of our three-part series, Faith-Based Programs and Their Impact on Rural Communities, which we're doing in collaboration with and supported by The Duke Endowment, Michelle chats with three experts about efforts rural churches are making to narrow the academic achievement gap and improve literacy rates for students in rural North Carolina: Dr. Helen Chen, consultant and researcher, Sharon Locklear, Director of the Sandy Plains United Methodist Church Summer Literacy Program in Pembroke, N.C., and David Reeves, Senior Minister at Cullowhee United Methodist Church in Cullowhee, N.C. During summer months, Dr. Chen notes, there is often a dearth of academic enrichment opportunities in rural communities, and literacy programs implemented by rural churches can help ensure that students meet mandatory grade-level literacy requirements and prevent "summer slide." The Duke Endowment’s Rural Church summer literacy initiative, whose roots date back to 2012, provides churches with grants to host six-week reading camps that ,include 90 hours of instruction, coupled with wraparound services, such as breakfast and lunch, transportation, and family engagement activities. Reeves' church hosted its first camp last year, which was extremely successful. It prompted them to continue the camp this year, albeit with a shorter program and a focus on children who did not have access to remote learning, while also adhering to CDC safety recommendations. Dr. Chen points out that the pandemic accentuates the literacy gap in rural communities and necessitated increased virtual learning this summer. Locklear's program, which also began last year and has continued this year, provides Native American students, "who are more tactile learners," with additional hands-on activities, such as magnet boards for sentence structure and poster boards for vocabulary instruction. This episode is sponsored by The Duke Endowment,