4-H and Youth

Literacy and Energy Express

...where breakfast, lunch and learning don’t take a summer break. Problem?

  • During the summer many children lose academic skills.
  • Without school breakfast and lunch, many children lose nutritional well-being.
  • Many children have few structured learning opportunities.
  • Summer learning and nutritional losses are greater for children living in rural and low-income communities.

Children living in rural and low-income communities often fall behind during the summer months, starting each school year behind where they were the previous spring. Successive summers of limited learning opportunities may cause children to fall below grade level by the end of elementary school—putting them further and further behind more privileged peers.

Solution: Energy Express!

Energy Express is a six-week summer program promoting the school success of children living in rural and low-income communities across West Virginia by:

  • Providing summer learning experiences focused on reading.
  • Serving two nutritious family-style meals each day.
  • Engaging college students in service through AmeriCorps.
  • Developing strong partnerships involving parents, schools, communities, and state agencies and organizations.


Each day, small groups of eight children who are entering first through sixth grades work with AmeriCorps members serving as mentors. Using a place-based curriculum that encourages reading, mentors guide the children through enriching experiences that make reading meaningful in their lives – creating books, reading aloud, writing and performing plays, reading silently, journaling, reading one-on-one with others, and exploring creative and exciting art activities.

Weekly themes of “myself,” “family,” “homeplace,” “community,” and “ideal world” guide the development of a “print-rich” environment. Related activities encourage children to appreciate themselves, their personal experiences, and their place in the world. Each week every child receives a free take-home book, related to the theme, to keep.

Mentors work with their groups to develop community service projects the children complete. They create books to donate to libraries, read at nursing homes and hospitals, and write and record public service announcements—learning the value of service while making real contributions to the improvement of their schools and communities.


AmeriCorps members serving as mentors and children share breakfast and lunch served family-style. These nutritious meals become important learning experiences as children learn to make choices, to assume responsibility, to cooperate, and to encourage in group discussions.

Local school systems and non-profit agencies serve as Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) sponsors with contracts through the West Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Child Nutrition. Funding for the SFSP comes from the United States Department of Agriculture.


In 2008:

  • Children’s reading was maintained or increased, with the average child gaining 3.5 months in broad reading achievement.
  • AmeriCorps members increased in personal efficacy, knowledge of children’s learning and knowledge of volunteer management.
  • More than 65,000 volunteer hours were contributed statewide.
  • Across the state, there were over 3,400 volunteers at Energy Express sites.
  • 139,700 nutritious meals were served.
  • Children received over 16,000 take-home books.


To sponsor an Energy Express site, a community coalition of parents, groups, and organizations develops a proposal, generated a required local match, and fills a variety of support roles—resulting in shared ownership, diversified funding, and program sustainability.

To apply for a site, more than 50 percent of the children in a school community must be eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

Energy Express is typically housed in school facilities that otherwise would stand empty during the summer.

During Energy Express, parents and community members are encouraged to support children in a variety of ways. Through home visits and personal contacts, mentors and volunteer coordinators invite parents to volunteer during the program. Some sites offer parents learning opportunities in supporting children’s learning, family nutrition, and parenting skills.

Many community members and service organizations donate their time and talents. Volunteers read aloud, help serve meals, take dictation from children, staff school offices, offer art activities, listen to children read, and share their special interests and experiences.

As part of their national service experience through AmeriCorps, mentors and volunteer coordinators at each site develop a group service project aimed at an identified community need—reading aloud for children at a local library, building a school’s playground open and safe for children during summer evenings.

State support for Energy Express comes from diverse partners. West Virginia University provides leadership in the development of a funding base and program delivery.

In 1997, Energy Express received the Joint Council of Extension Professionals Award for Excellence in Teamwork and the Council of State Governments Innovations Award. In 1998, Energy Express was selected as the America Reads Challenge ReadWriteNow! pilot site for the state of West Virginia.

These national awards recognize the efforts of Energy Express team members and partners, working together to meet the needs of children in rural and low-income West Virginia communities.


For more information about sponsoring an Energy Express site in your community or about serving as an Energy Express mentor or volunteer coordinator:

Energy Express West Virginia University Extension Service 706 Allen Hall Post Office Box 6602 Morgantown, West Virginia 26506-6602 304-293-3855 304-293-3866 (fax) Energy.Express@mail.wvu.edu

Learn more about Energy Express.