Group of Ballard kids is reading, learning and enjoying nutrition this summer

Marlys BarkerTri-County
Times Editor
Group of Ballard kids is reading, learning and enjoying nutrition this summer

When Lisa Hudson of Maxwell saw the success happening with the Nevada Food For Thought summer program and the Little Cyclone Camp summer program in Ames, she wanted the same opportunity for kids at Ballard, the district where she works as an Iowa Reading Corps member.

While she wasn’t able to get a program quite as elaborate as those in Nevada and Ames, Hudson and her Iowa Reading Corps co-worker at Ballard, Katie Kanauss of Slater, have been able to offer a summer program that keeps 15-20 Ballard kids reading, learning and eating.

According to Jean Kresse, executive director of Story County United Way, the agency that partners with school districts and finds other supporters for summer programs, Ballard has been able to partner with the Food Bank of Iowa to provide breakfast for students who participate in the early morning time slots and lunches for those who participate late mornings three to four days a week.

Kresse said the bigger programs at Nevada and Ames are made possible due to the enrollment percentages of kids on the free and reduced cost school lunch program. When these numbers are around 50 percent, the program meals are reimbursed through the Iowa Department of Education. At Ballard, only 10 percent of the kids participating qualify for the free and reduced meal program, so all of the meals can’t be covered, and that makes a bigger program cost-prohibitive, Kresse said.

She’s excited, though, that Hudson and Kanauss have offered something to the children in that area.

“Ballard is a big enough school district … I just knew there was something we could do,” Hudson said. She wanted to complement the hard work that is done to improve reading during the school year with more hard and fun work over the summer months, when studies show that the break from school has a detrimental effect on reading. “We’re doing reading and writing with these kids, so there’s no summer slump,” Hudson said.

In addition to working with the kids in Slater Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays, Hudson said the Huxley Library warmly agreed that the group could come to the library on Thursday mornings to do more fun activities.

“It was a very natural and easy thing to do,” said Huxley Library Director Cathy Van Maanen. “The library hosts summer reading programs for over 200 kids each week, for six weeks every summer. Combining the program with Ballard’s summer reading just seemed logical to us.”

Van Maanen said what the library offers on Thursday is seen as a reward for the kids who work hard Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the school. “Our program offers rewards and incentives to keep the reading that summer school students could participate in, and we do more games and crafts along with the reading. Plus exposing kids to and teaching all the kids about the library creates life-long readers, learners, and they grow into adults who will support the public library and in turn read to their kids. Our goal is to promote literacy right from birth, and develop a love for books.”

As Hudson mingles with the kids last Thursday morning at the library, she has fun seeing the craft projects they are working on and laughing with them as they work. It’s obvious that Hudson, who was a teacher’s assistant in the Collins-Maxwell School District before joining the Iowa Reading Corps, loves what she does.

“It is so much fun. It’s amazing to watch the kids learn,” Hudson said.

From Kresse’s viewpoint, it’s just great seeing more kids engaged in learning and getting the nutrition they need over the summer months.

“Since 2012, we have increased the number of children being fed during the summer from about 100 to over 400 (in Story County),” she said. There’s also a second Ames program being offered this summer at the Ames Public Library.

“I love seeing the collaborative spirit alive and well in Story County,” Kresse continued. “We have over 10 organizations and even more businesses, churches and service clubs coming together to make summer learning and meals possible for so many children.”