As school is starting around Western New York, I have been reflecting on the way that our Diocese is making a difference in our world is working with children over the summer. The Eaton Reading Camp sponsored by the Diocese has completed its second summer, as has the Children of the Book reading camp at St. Luke’s, Jamestown. St. Paul’s Cathedral conducts a reading camp through the Say Yes Buffalo program and St. Matthew’s, Buffalo hosts a Say Yes Buffalo camp that the neighboring Methodist church runs.
One of the most wonderful moments of my entire ministry as a Bishop happened last summer. I was in the basement meeting room of our Diocesan Ministry Center, sitting at a piano playing songs that many of us remember from childhood. Songs like “Twinkle, twinkle little star” and “Go tell Aunt Rhody”. I was surrounded by children from the City of Buffalo and teenagers from Virginia and New Jersey. They started off a little tentative, but by the end they were singing along. The children were participants in the Eaton Summer Reading program and the teenagers were spending a week on a Mission Trip helping with the program.
So many studies show that a student’s reading level by the end of Grade 3 is a direct indicator of whether or not they will graduate, which is to say that children reading below level when they are nine years old will not graduate when they are seventeen years old. This is true because the end of Grade 3 is a time when children shift from learning to read to reading to learn. Study after study also shows that the ability to read and to understand what is read is the fundamental skill needed to escape from the cycle of generational poverty.
The research is clear: summer enrichment programs positively impact the reading levels of children living in poverty. If young children’s reading levels are able to be improved sustainably it can break the cycle of poverty because it will set them up for further success in school, high school graduation, and provide them with the ability to obtain better paying jobs. The better the education of the parent, the better the education of the child who will be able to live above the poverty line. In fact, intervening on the elementary level with a focus on reading can have a generational effect on the healing poverty of families.
One of my favorite stories about the impact we can have comes from the first year of the Eaton reading camp. On the Friday of the next to last week of the program on their way home on the bus, the children all on their own got out the books they had been reading on all week and started to read them. The bus monitor held her breath, but they kept reading all the way home. The bus monitor sent us all an email that evening with the subject line, “They were reading on the bus!” The picture of those children reading on the bus is one of my favorites. It is an icon of changed lives.
Success is hard to measure, but we have some data and some stories. It is clear to me that breaking the cycle of poverty one child at a time is perhaps the most important things that the Diocese of Western New York has ever done.
St. Luke’s, Jamestown, St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Matthew’s, Buffalo and all of the people from all of the congregations who are helping with Eaton Camp are changing the world, one child at a time.