Reading College will be back for its ninth year and this time it’s going virtual.

For the month of July, 50 Grade 2 students will participate in the Reading College from their homes and be supported by mentor teachers and Red Deer College education graduates.

In groups of four, students will participate in virtual group activities on a daily basis, and work one-on-one with teachers.

The Foundation for Red Deer Public Schools started the Reading College program to support Grade 2 students who are struggling with reading and writing.

Bruce Buruma, executive director of the Foundation for Red Deer Public Schools, said that providing struggling Grade 2 students with a program solely focused on literacy can pay off drastically later in their life.

“One of the best predictors for high school completion is whether or not a child is at reading level at the end of Grade 3,” said Buruma.

“Really what Reading College does is inspire kids to read and write.”

In the past, Reading College would be taught in-person at Red Deer College by experienced teachers and recent Bachelor of Education graduates. Buruma said the reason it was held at the college was to inspire the children.

“Part of our reason of doing it at Red Deer College is we want to expose those children to what their future could be,” said Buruma.

When asked why the program was not being provided in-person as mass gathering restrictions have eased in the past weeks, Buruma said they consulted with the medical officer of health for the central zone and felt that taking it virtual was the best decision. They also considered the difficulty in maintaining physical distance amongst young children as well as the close proximity required in teaching.

“They’re not, maybe, fully understanding of what regular physical distancing should be,” said Buruma.

“The other thing is that we are reading, so if you are going to be doing that in a real setting, that does require really close proximity as you’re listening to children read and you’re going through books and words with them.”

The program will begin on July 6 and end on July 31 where there will be a virtual graduation to celebrate all of the student’s achievements.

“We are going to do our very best to continue that tradition where students are recognized and enthusiastic about the progress they’ve made,” said Buruma.

The program is sponsored by the Central Alberta Optimist Clubs and Tim Hortons through its Smile Cookie Campaign.