Written by Matthew Janis
Oh, those summer nights — biking, swimming, roasting marshmallows — oh, and at Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Haddon Heights, reading and writing, too.
For the past 15 years, the parish’s annual Summer Literacy Program has students from kindergarten to eighth grade gathering every Tuesday for reading and writing sessions
This fun, free summer program was created by Dr. Bernadette Janis, a long-time parishioner at Saint Rose of Lima, professor at The University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, and mother of six children, all of whom attended Saint Rose of Lima School from K-8.
“Joy, connection, word and world knowledge, fun, encouragement, resilience, curiosity, and perspective are just some of the infinite perks of reading and writing,” Dr. Janis explains when asked what inspired her to start the program. Her background in family literacy and experiences with volunteer tutoring also played a factor, adding that “It has always been my desire that every child encounter these benefits.”
Free and open to friends and family of Saint Rose students and parishioners, the heart of the program are the volunteer teachers, mostly parents of the participants. The teachers are trained by Dr. Janis, who creates lesson plans and gathers resources.
“I’ve been teaching in the program for eight summers, and every year I love it more,” says Tracey Dougherty, a bookseller. “It’s fun to help students get as excited about words and ideas as I do. I try to make our sessions a fun and comfortable place for everyone to try a new technique, share ideas, and even make a mistake or two — because that’s how we learn.”
Dawn Reilly, a literacy volunteer teacher of five years, points out one of the key components of Dr. Janis’ training for teachers — incorporating “highly engaging activities before, during, and after reading,” which “fosters a joy of reading while emphasizing the importance of academic enrichment over the summer break in a relaxed atmosphere.”
Dr. Janis believes that “Summer is an ideal time for students to immerse themselves in a variety of literacy activities without a grade or evaluation in the background. These regular experiences help students build habit, stamina, and fluency in reading and writing.”
Kids and teachers alike look forward to coming back summer after summer to partake in the fun.
Third grader Emma Anthony admits, “I thought it was going to be boring. But the time went by so fast that by the end I was wishing it was longer.” Her seventh grade sister Sarah acknowledges, “Every year I find out I have more to learn.”
Janis praises the community effort, saying that the program is only possible “because of the dedication and generosity of all of the volunteers over the last 15 summers. Many of our students return when they are in high school and serve as aides to the adult teachers. My own children have grown up in the program, and I am very proud that they now serve as teachers and assistants.”
She is not only serving in an administrative role, but also in the classroom. “I love teaching in the program,” she happily says. “Over the years I have had a chance to teach in most of the grade levels. I love my students, and I strive to build their confidence as readers and writers.”
Testimonies from parish families capture the community’s gratitude for this program. Jamey Anthony, father to Sarah and Emma, expresses that “They say nothing in life is free. But the summer literacy is not only free, it is freeing. Teaching a life skill that can take a person to the top of Mount Everest or to the inside of the latest GPU. We wish to thank the coordinator Dr. Janis for her special gift of reading and learning that she gives freely, bearing the costs through donating her time and considerable talents.”
Matthew Janis is a graduate of Saint Rose of Lima School, Haddon Heights, and Paul VI High School, Haddonfield. A senior at Temple University, he is the son of Dr. Bernadette Janis.