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Appleton Episcopal Ministries Reimagines Summer Literacy

Jul 7, 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic, school closures, and social distancing requirements prevented Appleton Episcopal Ministries from hosting its 4th annual Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School, Appleton leaders reimagined the summer literacy program as Appleton Free to Read Summer.

Given the challenge of not being able to reach children through normal school channels, program coordinators recruited 32 rising 1st through 4th graders from previous Freedom School participants, their now-eligible siblings, and local Path to Shine participants.

Appleton Missioner Julie Groce said not providing a summer literacy program was never an option.

“School is often the most secure environment that our children experience in their young lives. Our scholars need a sense of continuity in this unsettling time of isolation and economic disruption. One of Appleton’s primary priorities is to address children’s literacy, and our summer program is successfully addressing the need to raise third-grade reading scores, thus laying the groundwork for academic success, graduation, and positive community engagement,” Groce said.

“Site testing through the 2019 CDF Freedom School National Assessment confirmed that 95.0% of our children did not suffer summer learning slide and either maintained or exceeded their pre-program instructional reading levels, many by an average of 9 months or more. Now, more than ever, Appleton’s summer program is needed to provide our children with engaging and innovative reading and enrichment activities as well as the consistency of encouraging mentors and the ongoing relationship with program personnel. We just had to find a way to reaffirm and grow the rich relationships with our children and families for all of our sakes.”

Even with remote program delivery, each scholar can meet his or her teacher face-to-face, although at a six-foot distance. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Appleton staff deliver new learning packets and nutritious meals to each child’s home. Teachers follow up with one-to-one contact by Facetime video, Zoom, or email, depending on the students’ resources, and students can return photos of their completed activities by text or email. “Read Aloud” sessions and special enrichment presentations are posted to YouTube for everyone to enjoy. Each child has received a personal “Creation Station” packet filled with pencils, erasers, scissors, a ruler, boxes of crayons and multi-cultural crayons, colored pencils, markers, glue sticks, writing paper, drawing paper, and construction paper, as well as sight word flashcards, math facts and a composition book for creative writing.

The first book being studied this summer is The Colors of Us, a celebration of the differences and similarities that connect all people. Each of the staff members made a cut-out self-portrait of themselves for the scholars, and scholars are returning their self-portraits to Appleton during home deliveries to create a virtual “classroom wall” of all participants.
If you would like to help support this project, please visit You can contact Julie Groce at 478-731-5901 or at

The Free to Read staff delivers materials to students. Showing books and activities, including their own self-portraits, are Missioner Julie Groce; teacher Tori Johnson; Assistant Program Director Chyanne Thompson-Quartey; Program Director and Appleton Assistant Charlie Marrs-Mier; and teacher Jeb Byerley.

On the left Jeb Byerley delivers materials to Jaden. On the right Elijah and Elisha.