SuperKids Camp opens books, opportunities for city youths 8-week program offers summer activities, encourages reading

June 30, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Center Stage was set yesterday for work and play: the opening of SuperKids Camp, an eight-week summer program aimed at strengthening the reading skills of almost 2,000 city schoolchildren.

And despite the challenge of organizing buses, supplies and meals for 20 sites, Sally Michel, the dreamer and doer behind the camp scene, appeared almost as cool as Gary Cooper at high noon.

"It's happening, it's actually happening," said Michel, as she visited Center Stage and several other locations to orchestrate logistics for the camp she founded last year, open only to 7- and 8-year-olds in the summer between second and third grade.

"I always get calm before the beginning of something," explained Michel, a 60-year-old Guilford resident with smiling hazel eyes.

At the downtown theater, one activity du jour was making stage blood; another was dressing in costumes. "To be or not to be," recited Christopher Lee Davis, 8, a Paca Elementary School student who had become known among new friends as "the emperor."

Meanwhile, at another site, the Goucher College campus, horseback riding lessons were on the agenda for about 100 inner-city children. For others, painting murals will be a weekly activity; so will field trips to city museums. Also during the summer, 400 youngsters will take a week's worth of sailing lessons at the Inner Harbor. All for a pretty good deal: $5 a week.

But the main point of SuperKids Camp was crystallized by Bill Richards, who greeted campers yesterday at the Mount Royal Elementary School in Bolton Hill: "You're going to read, read, read this summer. Two hundred books by the end of camp."

A reading specialist in the Philadelphia school system, Richards, 51, came to Baltimore this week to help teach a program that encourages independent reading.

"We want to find the just-right book for you, not too hard and not too easy," Richards told a group as he invited youths to read a stack of eight paperback books waiting for each child. "It's like finding a shoe at a store that fits."

An earnest lad of 8 from Windsor Hills Elementary, Lorenzo McDaniel, sounded out "scratchy" and "patchy" in one book but got stuck on "ghost" in another.

Lorenzo wasn't yet ready to attack "Abiyoyo," a story based on a South African lullaby, with text by Pete Seeger, in which "the boy and his father were ostracized." But he would do just fine with "The Ugly Duckling" and "Amelia Bedelia."

Richards turned to Michel while his group members started reading and said, "Every city needs this over the summer."

SuperKids Camp, its second summer, is a reading and enrichment program that costs about $1,000 a child. The $2 million total is financed by the school system, federal funds and charitable contributions single-handedly raised by Michel. The program is designed to remedy the significant falloff in reading skills between second and third grades, especially among students who read below grade level.

In Baltimore during the past school year, about 4,000 second-graders fit that description. Michel had hoped to sign up all of them for SuperKids Camp, but only about half of them are attending the daily camp -- a fourfold increase over last year's number.

While dropping off two 7-year-old girls at Guilford Elementary School, Priscilla Adams, 41, said, "I was looking for something for the kids to do. They still need a little pushing, extra help."

The two girls, Adams' daughter and granddaughter, Kendra Bizzell and Shakiera Blake, both from Gardenville, will be coached in one of five popular teaching techniques used to drill students, including Open Court, Direct Instruction and Immersion.

The 160 instructors, many in their early 20s working toward education and social work careers, are each trained to teach certain techniques. "Books open so many doors," said instructor Shawn Mason, a Morgan State University psychology graduate student. "You can go so many places."

"Looks like fun," said Michel as she took in scene by scene. The end of the camp day found her at the Mount Vernon Place Methodist Church, one of several institutions that offered its facilities free.

There she watched a group of children close their eyes as their teacher encouraged them to imagine what it was like to be blind in a storytelling lesson.

As students boarded waiting buses moments later, one teacher noticed some looked weary after all the exercise of their imaginations. "Get a good night's rest," instructor Nikia Patterson, 22, told her children. "That's your homework for tonight."

Pub Date: 6/30/98

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