‘Project BUILD’ Keeps Kids Reading During Summer By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday June 24, 2005

Nearly 1,000 Berkeley kids kicked off the city’s summer program Wednesday, but instead of throwing balls and eating sloppy joes, they all had a book under their arm and celery on their plate. 

With support from UC Berkeley and local businesses, Berkeley has expanded Project BUILD, a two-year-old program designed to infuse standard summer recreation programs for kindergarten through eighth grade students with lessons in healthy eating, recycling, and most important, literacy. 

Studies show that students regress a half grade in reading over the summer, said Trina Ostrander, executive director of the Berkeley Public Education Foundation. “It’s tragic that kids who are already behind actually lose academic skills over the summer.” 

Project BUILD attempts to keep students on track academically by giving them two free books and deploying 80 trained UC Berkeley students to tutor them three hours a day. The remainder of the day is reserved for recreation. 

The program works with eight already established city summer programs and is geared towards low income students in south and west Berkeley, where students have disproportionately lower test scores and higher rates of asthma and diabetes. 

“This is like school, only more fun,” said Victoria Alejo, a fourth grader who selected Felita as her summer reading material. Alexis Conway, a third grader, said that the three hours of reading was her favorite part of the program, although most of her friends preferred swimming. 

Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, the executive director of BAHIA, a community group that has teamed up with Project BUILD, said she has noticed that students who participated in last year’s program read better during the school year. 

“Our kids were a lot more excited about reading,” said Phil Cotton, who directs Berkeley’s Young Adult Project, also affiliated with the program. “The kids were proud to show off their books and show their parents what they read.”  

Cotton said that before Project BUILD, YAP had high school students or community volunteers tutoring students rather than trained UC students. “They solidify the program that much more,” he said. 

Tou Lor, a recent Cal grad who tutored students last year, said the program gives UC tutors a chance to formulate their own lesson plan. “This is a much richer experience than tutoring during the school year,” he said. 

Unlike last year, he added, when the program was hastily put together over two months, the tutors now have more training from UC Berkeley’s School of Education for scholastic work and from Berkeley’s Health Department to teach kids about cooking and exercising. 

The program carries a $320,000 price tag, but doesn’t cost the city any money. UC Berkeley covers the cost of the tutors through $255,000 in federal work-study funding and local businesses have contributed the rest of the money. All students will receive a free lunch devoid of soda and sweets. 

“This is the most exciting project I’ve been involved with in quite some time,” said Mayor Tom Bates, who worked to cobble together the funding and support groups to get the program underway. 

Project BUILD isn’t the only summer program in Berkeley this year, said school district spokesperson Mark Coplan. The PTA will continue to run programs at a few school sites that focus more on recreation.