The three R's on the road Classroom: When the Midway comes alive, as it is at the Maryland State Fair, children of its operators attend school in a trailer.

August 31, 1996|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Rejoice in your Lord. "Please diagram each sentence," barks Sally Schmidt, under the big top. There is a time for every purpose under heaven.

"I don't feel well," says little Nathan. "Of course not. That's because Miss Sally is making you work today," says Miss Sally, in her one-room trailer of a schoolhouse behind the Midway at the Maryland State Fair. Nathan smiles and is healed.

Ten carny kids get their private, nonaccredited, education 180 days a year inside a trailer labeled Deggeller Midway Academy. It's named after Deggeller Attractions Inc. that puts on the carnival and owns the school. "Don't call them 'carnies.' We are showmen," says Miss Sally, the on-call teacher.

The carnival atmosphere aside, school rules are school rules: 1. Have all your homework finished. 2. No extraneous conversation. 3. Be clean and rested. That goes for Ben, Jessica, Carolyn, Scotty, Heidi, Dustin, Jen, David, Donovan and Nathan -- aged from kindergarten to what would be senior high. Their parents run games and concessions for the fair, and travel the 10-month, eight-state, carnival circuit in their own trailers.

They have a choice about their children's education. They can leave their child in their home town with a relative and enroll them in public school. Or they can take them on the road, attend the Academy's own PTA meetings, and decide what their kids should learn.

"This school keeps families together," Miss Sally says. "We know we're giving our kids the best education."

The Midway heats up midday on another noisy Friday. The trailer's temperature is 70 or below, and Miss Sally insists on quiet. She slaps a history quiz on the class before stepping to the back of the trailer. Over cases of Pepsi and Ocean Spray, a poster shows a pristine mansion, with Spanish tile, Florida palm trees out back, and a Bermuda sunrise spraying the oceanfront property. Its garage holds a new Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, and Corvette. "Justification For Higher Education," the poster reads.

In her absence, the kids act up a bit. Miss Sally runs a tight trailer. "Our purpose is not to argue in front of the reporter," she reminds her class, singling out one girl for an attempted tattle-tale. "Your father, owner of the school, would be very disappointed in you " Miss Sally's voice could match any carnival barker's. The kids return to silence.

"You really think I'm a bear? I'm not, really," she says later. "They live on the road. They need structure and discipline." After all, she's not running a circus here.

Meanwhile on the Midway, towering balloons posing as mutant Budweiser cans list in the wind. A guy walks by in a T-Shirt that says, "Mothers Like Good Boys -- But Chicks Dig Bad Boys." In one hall, the Maryland Lottery Booth is packed with players. T-shirts are for sale nearby: "PMS Allows A Woman To Once A Month Act Like Men Do Every Day." And it's always touching to see the Confederate flag proudly displayed on clothing wear.

In about an hour, the Midway Academy will adjourn for lunch. One kid wants to break now -- could be Nathan. "Didn't you just go the bathroom? Really? Are you sure? You're not just going in there to sing?" Miss Sally says, granting the leave.

"We are a Christian academy," Miss Sally says. "We represent VTC the same values that the show promotes on the Midway. Family and God."

When lunchtime arrives, one "showman" mom, Tammy Landsinger, strongly suggests fair food. Upon inspection, the corn dogs are left undisturbed. Another time maybe. Tammy runs several concessions here and inherited the carnival life from her family. At 34, she looks so very much at home on these festive, tangled, temporary grounds.

Tammy's 10-year-old daughter, Carolyn, has a concession named after her. "Carolyn's Bottle Up" is one of the Midway's $1 skill games guaranteed to, well, cost you $1. "I don't know how much it makes. Mom is the money-keeper," Carolyn says.

Before there was the Academy, Carolyn went to public school in their home town in central Florida. Her mom and dad would sometimes go four months without seeing their only child.

"It was a pretty big separation. This is home for her now," Tammy says, before waving to Jaime "The Log Lady" -- keeper of the world's oldest log. It could pass for the world's oldest corn dog.

"Mommy!" says Carolyn, free for lunch, free to roam a bit. They hold hands all the way to the Hickory Farm stand, where Carolyn orders a ham and cheese sandwich with lots and lots of mustard. She calls the reporter "the questionnaire," a big word no doubt learned under Miss Sally's watch.

"She's not tough. You just have to get used to her," Carolyn says. (In fact, everyone likes Miss Sally.)

Mom and daughter take shelter in their trailer. They are firmly met by Gretchen, a 110-pound Rottweiler suspected of not liking questionnaires. Carolyn sleeps at one end of the trailer, her parents the other. Gretchen sleeps where she wants. A video is popped in. Lunch is being had.

"82 on my history test."

"Cool," Mom says. "That's a B." No grade curve at the Academy, and they like it that way.

Carolyn, who wants to be an oceanographer, doesn't miss the public school scene. "I was too smart." And she doesn't miss something else about Orlando. She went to Disney World a million times, "but the fair is better. More stuff to do," she says.

Carolyn and Tammy Landsinger, Miss Sally, "The Log Lady" and the corn dogs are in town through the long weekend. Come Tuesday, the trailers will slog out and down to North Carolina for another show.

The caravan leaves right after school.

Pub Date: 8/31/96

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