Summer school reaches new levels More children take classes to have fun, advance knowledge

July 17, 1998|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jill Hudson Neal contributed to this article.

On a postcard summer day custom-made for playing, fifth-grader Jody Williams is happily conducting science experiments in a classroom at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia.

"We made a sorta kinda terrarium," explained Jody, a Waterloo Elementary student, showing a visitor a jar filled with pebbles, sand and a small plant subsisting on water. "We wanted to see if it would grow or not."

Like the other 10 children gathered in Troy Todd's "Living in Water" life science class, Jody is enrolled in summer school. But none of them are there out of necessity. They want to be there.

Summer school once was synonymous with sullen faces and weary resignation to re-learning long division instead of being at the pool. But now hundreds of Baltimore-area students are attending summer school for enrichment classes, and some school districts have increased the number of courses.

For elementary- and middle-schoolers, summer school offers a chance to get a jump on the fall, to prepare for advanced classes or to learn about a subject that interests them. At the high school level, some students take summer courses to advance more quickly or to qualify for upper-level classes or more electives. And while some do attend for the traditional reasons, the children in enrichment classes represent the new face of summer school.

Jody is one of 124 elementary- and middle-schoolers taking enrichment courses in Howard County. Taking the class was her mother's idea, she says, but she isn't complaining.

"I just like science because you get to do experiments," she said.

The school system has increased the number of such classes in recent years because of parent demand, said Abbie Diane Martin, an assistant principal at Thunder Hill Elementary School, who is also acting assistant principal for the Howard County summer school program. Parents like the idea that their children are learning year-round and staying sharp academically during the summer break, Martin said.

"We want them to stay abreast and keep the skills fresh," she said.

Other school districts offer similar opportunities. Some Baltimore County high-schoolers opt to take original credit summer classes. In Carroll County, between 550 and 750 elementary and middle school students participated in three-week courses in the arts, science and computers. Next year, Carroll County school officials expect to offer summer enrichment programs to high school students as well.

In Harford County, students in grades one to eight can enroll in classes for sign language, theater, dragons and mythology, and the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Classes are offered from Monday to July 30.

In Anne Arundel County, more than 1,000 students are enrolled in the Elementary Summer Academy, which offers a language arts program and math courses.

Howard County's overall summer school program includes 608 high school students, 242 elementary-schoolers and 217 middle-school children under one roof at Wilde Lake High School. Between classes, they form a curious traffic jam of tall teen-agers and children not much bigger than their backpacks.

Many would rather be anywhere on a sunny July morning than in a classroom. But you won't find any of those children in Todd's science class, where first- through fifth-graders are learning about wave patterns, pollution and evaporation through hands-on experiments.

Creative teachers

"Here, they are really excited," Todd said. "In this class, they bring in books and things off the Internet."

Todd doles out empty plastic soda bottles to each child, filling the jars with tap water, cooking oil and drops of food coloring. The food coloring forms tiny globs in the oil before oozing into the water, and the students are eager to shake the bottles to form waves.

"Ewwwww! Cool," the class squeals in unison.

Moments like these are the key to making summer enrichment work worthwhile, Martin said.

"We have many teachers that are creative, and they are preparing the lessons to keep the kids motivated," Martin said. "And [the students] enjoy learning as well."

In Sandi Keeley's enrichment reading and writing class, a dozen third- through fifth-graders are studying this paragraph, intentionally written with errors: lauren tryed to rap the present quickly she has only five minutes til the partie started.

Fourth-grader Noor Oweis tackles the problem, making swift proofreading corrections on the chalkboard as she explains her conclusions.

"This word is spelled wrong. It's t-r-i-e-d," Noor says. "Til is not a real word."

Later, the students finish final drafts of letters to sports stars such as figure skater Michelle Kwan, and, of course, Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles.

'Time for them to just grow'

"What we try to do is improve from where they are," Keeley said. "We try to make their writing richer. This is a time for them to just grow."

Marisol Algarin said the skills she's learning in Keeley's class will help her when school begins.

"During the summer I always forget how to do things," Marisol said. "It's better than staying at home. I like the homework."

But as eager as this group is, school is still school. Just before class ends, Keeley asks the magic question: "What does Friday mean?"

"No homework!" the class responds.

Pub Date: 7/17/98

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