In middle school, 'a big difference' More things to do, says Gamber youth CARROLL COUNTY EDUCATION

September 27, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

If children walk down the path of learning in a series of small and big steps, David Gregory Putman took a giant leap this summer into middle school.

Since he began kindergarten, Greg, as his family and friends call him, has agreed to an annual interview by The Sun, as a typical school child.

He finished fifth grade at Mechanicsville Elementary School in June and started sixth grade at Westminster West Middle School Sept. 7.

"There's a big difference," said Greg in the sun room of his Nottingham Road home in Gamber. "We have to do more things on our own."

Greg must keep track of five teachers, more rooms and students, and more assignments.

One day, he left his binder in school and couldn't complete a homework assignment. He handed it in a day late, meaning a C instead of the A he would have gotten.

Family discussion

His mother, Pamela, and father, Richard, discussed with him ways to keep from forgetting his binder again.

"[His father] was telling him he has to take certain things to work with him every day, and Greg sort of has to do that, too," Mrs. Putman said.

Greg's parents suggested he make a habit of looking in his book bag every day before leaving school, and taking a mental inventory of what he needs.

Eager to discuss his new experiences, Greg launched into a description of his most impressive of all -- a week at the Outdoor School program at Hashawha Environmental Appreciation Center.

The program is much like a summer residential camp. Activities ranged from solving a tactical problem, such as how to squeeze 10 children onto a small platform, to academic projects on the environment.

"I learned how to work together and solve problems, how to do things, how to get ideas and do things right," Greg said.

"They did a lot of group work in elementary school," Mrs. Putman said. "Greg didn't seem to like it that well."

Some shirked work

Greg would often complain that one student or another wasn't pulling his weight while another student did all the work.

What was different at the Outdoor School?

"Maybe building up confidence in the beginning, that would make us trust everybody more," he said, referring to the confidence-enhancing exercises the students participated in the first day. For example, they would stand in a circle around one student, who would fall in one direction or another, always to be caught by others in the circle.

"We knew they wouldn't let us fall," Greg said.

All sixth-graders in the county have an opportunity to spend a week at the Outdoor School, and more than 96 percent sign up for it. They start on Monday and leave Friday afternoon, spending nights in dormitories and eating family-style meals in the dining room.

The "enrichment" program, said coordinator Geary Myers, has three objectives.

Responsibility is taught

One is to teach children to understand to accept responsibility, by taking care of their belongings and carrying out duties such as taking down the flag or cleaning.

A second goal is to learn about the environment, using Hashawha's trees, ponds and other natural attributes.

"I did the weather one day," Greg said, showing his notebook of wind, temperature and precipitation readings.

"In forestry, we learned how to take a sample out of a tree without hurting it," he said.

Greg vividly recalled a wildlife game in which the students try to avoid being "eliminated" by hazards that animals encounter. It took about half an hour to learn the elaborate rules, he said.

In the game, the student has to surrender a color-coded card to another student who is playing a disease, predator or hunter.

They saw films of real animals being attacked and eaten by predators, he said.

"Some kids were saying 'Ooh -- sick.' But I just thought to myself [that] it's something that happens in real life. If the [predatory] animal didn't eat, it would probably die."

The third goal, Mr. Myers said, is for students to have fun while learning and accepting responsibility.

"We make sure we're respecting each other. We try to get away from making fun of each other," Mr. Myers said. "It's kind of a growing-up experience."

The program has been in Carroll schools since 1964, he said. Greg attended the Outdoor School in his first week of school, but sixth-grade classes take turns going during the whole school year.

Greg loved his week at Hashawha, he said, but school was no letdown either.

'Awesomest' teachers

"I have the 'awesomest' teachers," he said. "My favorite subject is math. And I like science because I like working with things. I just can't waituntil we start the experiments."

The teachers in his team, Team 3, vary the schedule every day. Greg explained that it took awhile to get used to it, but he agrees with the purpose: To keep students from ending up with the same subject at the end of the day, when they're usually tired.

"[The teachers] just want us to do our best, and if we don't know something yet, they'll teach us," Greg said. "They'll help us a lot."

Mrs. Putman notices an increase in Greg's enthusiasm for school this year, and said he has risen to the challenges of a bigger school.

Parents meet teachers

She and her husband went to "meet-the-teacher night" last week at the school for both Greg and older brother Grant, who is in eighth grade.

"I think Greg was really ready for middle school," Mrs. Putman said.

"Last year he learned, but he would get off track. I don't think he was really into it last year. This year, his homeroom teacher said, 'Greg is really on target this year.' I almost fell out of my chair."

The past summer, he and Grant went to two camps, for Scouting and lacrosse. But the disappointment of the summer was an ear infection that kept Greg from competing with the Freedom Swim Club team.

"I think he's really grown up a lot this summer," his mother said.

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