Getting readers out of 'slump' Camp: Children who read during the summer need less 'catching up' when they begin school in the fall.

July 19, 1998|By Jenny Huddleston | Jenny Huddleston,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

It's a gorgeous July morning as a dozen fourth- and fifth-grade girls dressed in summer neons, yellows and pinks squirm in their chairs. Yes, their teacher smiles, it's almost time for recess, but first some work must be done.

The girls, in the last days of the four-week Baltimore Readers' Camp at the Bryn Mawr Lower School in North Baltimore, have been reading "Kai: A Mission for Her Village," the story of a 10-year-old facing starvation in the 1440s in what is now Nigeria.

Eight-year-old Karla Bright, who attends James McHenry Elementary School in the city during the school year, quietly drags her chair to the front of the classroom and begins copying notes on the book's setting and character from the blackboard.

The rest of the girls follow suit from their seats, adding notes and drawings of their own to the journals they've been keeping. They twist in their seats for a while, but soon their studies absorb them.

Founded in 1989 by the late Alma Cripps and current director Patricia M. Nothstein, Baltimore Readers' Camp seeks to combat the "reading slump" that vexes fourth- and fifth-graders. Even if they've learned to read by 9, reading experts say, children need constant practice as they approach middle-school age. And children who read during the summer need less "catching up" when they begin school in the fall.

Thanks to foundation grants, about 150 boys and girls from five city elementary schools -- James McHenry, Mildred D. Monroe, Franklin Square, Pimlico and Edgecombe Circle -- attend the camps in same-sex classes at four private institutions -- Bryn Mawr, Gilman, Boys' Latin and Roland Park Country School.

According to Nothstein, Cripps, who taught in public and private schools during her career, felt a collaboration between the two would benefit both sides. Cripps also favored single-sex learning, a philosophy still practiced in the camps because "boys and girls learn differently," said Nothstein.

To participate, students must read at or above their grade level and must be recommended by a teacher.

The grants pay for transportation and teachers, making the day camp free for students. For this reason, many attend the camp two years in a row.

"It costs a lot of money to go to this, but for us it's free," said Tiona Murdock, 9, who will start fifth grade at Franklin Square Elementary in the fall.

In her second year at camp, Murdock loves the Bryn Mawr library and welcomes the single-sex environment.

"We can do 'girl things,' " she said, such as read books geared toward young women, without the distraction of boys.

Besides daily reading projects, students engage in art and music. They write poetry and stories, learn international dances and songs, take field trips and hear guest speakers.

"We're making maps for every story we read," said Kristen Adkins, 8, of James McHenry Elementary.

Near the end of their month together, every girl will list her favorite books -- Roald Dahl's "Matilda" and Ludwig Bemelmans' "Madeline," to name two -- and each looks forward to taking a new book home when she leaves.

Artwork they've done mirrors the children's enthusiasm. An acrostic poem decorated with flowers and green hearts spells out the name Myisha, a confident 9-year-old.

As the young readers work, their colorful crayon self-portraits beam down from the wall behind them.

Pub Date: 7/19/98

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